Fire consumed a major piece of Hood River history Wednesday as the 110-year-old Kayak Shed building fell to flames in a two-alarm fire.
Investigators were on scene Friday morning to try to assess the cause of the fire, which totaled the building and left kayaks and other contents in what one firefighter termed “a gooey mess.” No one was hurt in the fire.
The building, which housed Schlosser Machine Shop in the 1960s through 1990s, is owned by the Schlosser Family Trust. Kayak Shed owner John Hart started the business 15 years ago.
Scott Reynier of Columbia River Insurance said Friday that insurance company adjustors were on scene, along with a cause and origin investigator from one of the companies. It is not yet known how long it will take investigators to determine the cause.
Also on hand Friday was a representative of Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office. Reynier represents Kayak Shed, Ground (aka Old Yasui Building) and the third building on the block, New Yasui (home to Celilo Restaurant, Copper West Properties and other businesses).
“This is a tremendous loss for the community,” said Chief Leonard Damian of Hood River Fire Department.
The site is unsafe and while the street was opened Friday morning for the first time since 8 p.m. Wednesday, the burn site is extremely dangerous and the public should stay out. Reynier said the investigators will be on scene for two days, and after that the owners will begin the process of tearing down.
The fire was reported at 7:45 p.m. and Hood River Police were there in two minutes. Two of the three on-duty Hood River Fire Department staffers had gone at 7:35 p.m. to help a woman who broke her leg in a fall at Brookside Manor, according to Damian. The first fire vehicle on scene, at around 7:49 p.m., was from West Side Fire Department, followed
by Hood River Fire Department
vehicles. Also responding were Wy’East Fire District and Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue from The Dalles.
The fire appeared to start north of the building, which is built on a steep slope. Trees behind the building burned first, the Oak Street front still visible, until flames entered the building and ferociously emerged through the front doors and windows.
Among agencies’ main tasks in response to the fire was cutting off power and the natural gas lines that run between Ground and Kayak Shed and on the east end of the property.
The concerted efforts of firefighters saved neighboring Ground café, a 1930 brick building. The fire damaged the east wall of Ground, but after clean-up on Thursday the café was open as usual on Friday morning.
Among other efforts, the crane-like Tower 3 poured a steady stream of water between the two buildings, combatting the flames and intense heat that developed in the two-foot space.
Hart said he does not yet have a figure on the financial total of the loss, but all his merchandise was destroyed. He had recently moved goods from a separate warehouse into the downtown location.
“It’s very tough. This was our livelihood for myself and my wife and our two children,” Hart said.
Asked about next steps for Kayak Shed, including a new location, Hart said, “I don’t know. Too soon to say. We’ll take a look in the next day or two, talk about options.”
“We can’t say enough about the efforts of the fire department to protect the neighboring businesses,” Reynier said.
This was echoed by Maui Meyer, owner of the New Yasui and Old Yasui buildings, who was on the roof of New Yasui, turning on roof sprayers and a garden hose that he had fortuitously left on the roof three weeks ago.
“Tonight was a bit crazy,” Meyer said in an email sent out Wednesday night.
“Our dear friends and business owners John and Jen Hart lost their business. Their landlords, the Schlossers, lost their building.
“For a few moments it was dicey for the Old Yasui building and the New Yasui building. But we all survived, and no lives were lost. The crews from the Wy’East, Westside, Parkdale and Hood River, and Mid-Columbia were there, diligently working the fire, and doing an amazingly professional job.
“On behalf of myself, my business partners, the tenants of our buildings which you saved, and many others, thank you all for your effort, your professionalism and your commitment. We owe you a debt of gratitude, and will not soon forget it!”
Of the cooperation, Damian said, “I have lived in the Gorge 18 years but I have not witnessed anything like this.” He previously worked for a Portland metro fire agency.
The fire was a major blow to a long-standing downtown business that had already had a tough summer.
“September was a tough month anyway,” Hart said. “Most of my business is online, and our biggest markets online are Florida and Texas, and they had hurricanes, and no one could get here to the store, so by far it’s the worst business climate.”
Hart was able Wednesday night to shut down his website and Amazon accounts, via his cell phone, for the foreseeable future, “until we get product or move forward.”