The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Brianna Wray
the Times 

Spectacular Fire Hits Waitsburg's Main St.

Former Hugs, Gifts & Collectibles building was destroyed in Sunday night blaze


September 13, 2018

Matthew Wyatt

Firefighters work to extinguish flames from Sunday night's fire, preventing further loss of Waitsburg's Main Street buildings.

WAITSBURG-Neighbors watched as first responders worked to extinguish a fire that broke out on Waitsburg's Main Street Sunday night.

"All of a sudden there were flames and it went up like that," said Joy Smith as she snapped her fingers. "It was fully engulfed before the fire people even got there."

The building, at 109 Main St., which formerly housed Smith's business, Hugs, Gifts and Collectibles, was destroyed. The building is owned by Waitsburg resident Skip Carpenter.

"We were alerted to the fire at 8:45 p.m. Sunday," said Neil Henze, Chief of Columbia and Walla Walla County Fire District 2. "The fire was already through the roof when we arrived on scene."

Further investigation is required to determine a cause, and test results are expected in a week or so.

The blaze was contained by 1 a.m. But as of 10 a.m. Monday morning there were still hot spots smoldering and firefighters hosing smoking embers.

Henze said he was pleased with the turnout from neighboring fire districts.

"We had as many people as we could get out here," he said. "District 2 had two engines here. Columbia County District 3 came to help. We had Walla Walla County District 4, District 5, District 7, and District 8. We also had the City of Walla Walla bring their ladder truck out for us which was a tremendous help so that we could shoot water down at the fire. We appreciate the City of Walla Walla and all the help."

The building was mostly empty when the flames broke out.

"We were under the gun to get out of there," Smith said. "The Carpenters asked us to be out by the end of August because they wanted to get in and do some work on the building, so they could list it for sale."

Smith and another former thrift store owner were just removing the last items when the fire started.

"We went to the grocery store and when we came back the power wasn't on in the building," Smith said. "There's knob and tube wiring down there so I thought they blew a fuse. There was smoke."

Upon further investigation Smith realized it wasn't smoky in the main area of the building, only the breezeway, which had windows that opened to the second floor. "We could see something going on in there, so I said, 'let's get out,'" she said.

Both business owners were able to exit the building safely before its collapse.

Smith continued, "By the time we got out of the building it was coming out of the second-floor door, so that's all I know. All I know is that it went quickly, and it broke my heart. Trying to wrap your head around it is hard. We were there ten years."

Although no one was hurt, two adjacent buildings were damaged.

"With the way downtowns in most places are you have buildings connected or right next to each other," says Henze.

The two-story building to the south, owned by Jim and Claire German, was left with a melted heat pump and two broken-out windows. Their cats both fled the scene and were recovered. One cat was found walking along Highway 124.

Skip Carpenter, the building's owner, was already working at the scene Monday. "We're in the process of cleaning it up right now," he said. "Clyde Burdine has his backhoe down there moving the burnt stuff out. When the matter gets settled a little, we'll haul it all away."


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