Investigators seek cause of Forks fire

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

FORKS — West End residents today are staring into piles of rubble where two landmark downtown buildings — one a center of community events for eight decades — once stood.

Investigators are delving into the cause of the early Monday blaze that destroyed the city-owned International Order of Odd Fellows hall and a single-story building next door at 61 N. Forks Ave. that most recently housed Dazzled by Twilight souvenir shop.

Both wood-frame buildings burned in a spectacular fire that called out firefighting units at 3:45 a.m.

“I was worried we were going to lose the whole town for a while,” Mayor Bryon Monohon said.

No injuries resulted from the fire, which was brought under control by about 6:30 a.m., he said.

The blaze prompted the Clallam County Public Utility District to shut off power for four hours to 1,335 customers, causing the closure of Quillayute Valley School District for the day.

Lost were the IOOF hall at 35 Forks Ave. that housed the Rainforest Art Center and a small shop featuring Latin American groceries and merchandise, and the adjacent single-story store building at the corner of Forks and East Division Street.

Although it housed until January the souvenir shop aimed at fans of the hugely successful Twilight series that author Stephenie Meyer set in Forks, the building also had been home to Fern Gallery, a gift shop and Olympic Pharmacy in its nine-decade history.

A residence behind the former Dazzled by Twilight and across an alley was saved, although the home suffered slight wall damage.

But lost was the Latino tienda on Forks Avenue that had been in business for 18 years.

Late Monday morning, the store owner “was totally distraught,” Monohon said.

“We lost a quarter of a city block and two of our old historic buildings and one business,” Monohon said.

“We’re struggling a little bit, but the town is pulling together.”

The fire, which began in the Odd Fellows building, had been burning “for quite a while” when it was reported, Clallam County Fire District No. 1 Chief Phil Arbeiter said.

“It definitely had the sky lit up,” he said.

Investigators are determining whether a propane tank exploded during the blaze, Monohon said.

The cause of the fire was unknown as of midday Monday, Arbeiter said.

The chief said four engines and 25 firefighters responded.

Volunteer first-responders were joined by personnel from the Forks Police Department, Forks Public Works Department and Clallam County PUD as the flames were extinguished.

“It was a pretty horrific and scary thing,” said Monohon, who was on the scene as firefighters streamed water on the blaze.

“It was a major conflagration. We had flames screaming up into the air. Flames were shooting five and six stories into the sky at points.”

Arbeiter and investigators from Clallam fire districts Nos. 2 and 3 were planning to conduct an on-site inspection of the charred remains Monday afternoon, he said.

During the fire, the PUD shut the power off as a precaution, spokesman Michael Howe said, adding that three or four customers remained without power Monday morning “and will be awhile longer” because the blaze damaged a transmission pole and possibly a transformer.

The Clallam County Assessor’s Office on Monday did not have a value for the IOOF hall, which had been deeded to the city in the 1990s.

The former Dazzled by Twilight store and the land it occupied were valued at $201,576 and is owned by Alaskan Financial Co. III LLC of Anchorage.

The former brick, craftsman-style building stood for almost 90 years — most of that time as Olympic Pharmacy.

“That building has been a source of commerce and community that served as one of the anchor buildings in our community’s business district,” Monohon said.

Both it and the IOOF hall were built after a fire destroyed Forks’ central business district in the early 1920s, he said.

“Out of those ashes were built two of the buildings we lost today that helped define our community,” Monohon said in a statement.

Both buildings survived the Great Forks Fire of 1952 — a forest fire that townsfolk held off from most of the business district.

The Odd Fellows building — the town’s third that was dedicated in October 1925 — “was a real community gathering place,” Monohon added.

The city accepted the building, noted for its old-growth lumber, as a gift from the Grand Lodge of the Order of the Odd Fellows in 1997 on condition that for at least 10 years, it be used “for the purposes of education, recreation and arts for the benefit of Forks,” Monohon said.

After it became city property, the building was renovated and modernized.

“As was the case in its early years, the building saw our children learn to dance in it, artists learned and displayed their talents in it, and nearly nine decades of laughter echoed through its clear-grain timbers,” Monohon said.

“It was a really warm and friendly building” with great acoustics, Monohon said in an interview.

“There were lots and lots of plays there and lots of dances.

“It’s a major core, the heart of the community.”

The building was insured.

“We will be working with our insurance company to determine our next short- and long-term course of action,” the mayor said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 29. 2012 6:08PM
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