Forks fire sparked by electrical glitch

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

FORKS — Grieving residents are tying remembrance notes to a fence protecting the charred remnants of two historic buildings at the corner of North Forks and East Division streets that were consumed by fire last week.

Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators have determined that an electrical malfunction sparked the Monday morning fire that destroyed the International Order of Odd Fellows hall and the former Dazzled by Twilight souvenir store, Clallam County Fire District No. 1 Chief Phil Arbeiter told Peninsula Daily News last week.

The buildings were vacant when the fire was reported at 3:45 a.m. Monday.

City officials were unable Friday to estimate when demolition crews could begin removing the debris.

Arbeiter, whose department received verbal notification last week that the fire was not arson, said Friday he is awaiting a written report from the agency.

Explosion

Investigators believe the blaze started when water compromised an electrical conduit on the first floor of the city-owned IOOF building, causing an explosion, Arbeiter said.

“It can sound like a quarter- or half-stick of dynamite, depending on how much water is inside the box,” he said.

Activities surrounding the future of the corner will proceed on two tracks, city officials said.

Arbeiter said ATF has asked for statements from firefighters who stanched the blaze by about 6 a.m. Monday and does not expect the report until after the agency has reviewed those statements.

The fire “wasn’t criminal, so it might not be a big rush for them,” Arbeiter said.

“It could take them longer.”

Insurance companies

City Attorney Rod Fleck said Friday that insurance companies will now have their turn at reviewing the fire scene.

The IOOF hall was insured for $3.7 million under a policy with the Association of Washington City Risk Management Services.

The West Olympic Council of the Arts holds the insurance for the Rain­forest Art Center that occupied the second floor of the IOOF hall, Fleck said.

Tienda Latina, a Latino-products store on the ground floor of the building, also has an insurance carrier that has been meeting with store manager Luis Perez, said Manuela Velasquez of Forks, a friend of Perez’s.

“There are a lot of expectations and work he needs to do for the insurance,” Velasquez said Saturday, adding that Perez has had to make trips to Tacoma and Olympia to consult with suppliers.

The former Dazzled by Twilight store, which used the theme of the popular Twilight novel series penned by Stephenie Meyer, and the land it occupied are owned by Alaskan Financial Co. III LLC.

“The insurance companies are now taking over the scene, and they will probably do so for the next while,” Fleck said.

He said insurance company investigators likely will do a joint visit of the burned-out buildings as part of their investigations.

“We don’t know the answer” as far as when that might occur, he said.

“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on that’s behind-the-scene stuff that no one sees, unfortunately; that’s stuff that has to be done before demolition and removal of debris will occur,” Fleck said.

“The scene may need to be fenced and secured and kept the way it is for days.”

Request for patience

Mayor Bryon Monohon issued a statement Friday asking for “patience and support” from Forks residents.

He asked them to “respect the security measures taken” to prevent the public from entering the property.

Fleck said remembrance notes have been tied to the fence in memory of the site, where the IOOF hall was a center of community activities, including plays and classes.

“Those of us who have very special and strong ties with that building are still sitting here dealing with the shock and loss,” he said.

Perez and his wife, who also worked in Tienda Latina, have three children, ages 5, 8 and 11.

The store, in existence since 1991, catered to a largely Guatemalan and Mexican clientele, many of whom pick salal for a living.

It featured specialty bread and imported groceries, including soups and canned beans, as well as Spanish-language newspapers and natural medicines.

Perez also would wire customers’ money to other countries.

“The big issue they are facing is, what are we going to do now?” Velasquez said.

“Now they are unemployed.”

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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: November 03. 2012 5:37PM
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