Fires at waterfront restaurant, hotel keep firefighters busy

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

Updated: September 12, 2012, 10:00 PM

 
photoA Vancouver firefighter cuts a hole in the roof of Who Song and Larry's restaurant on Wednesday.

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photoFirefighters respond to Who Song & Larry's Restaurant and Cantina after fire broke out during the dinner rush at the waterfront business on Wednesday.

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A dinnertime blaze caused $250,000 damage to Who Song & Larry’s Restaurant & Cantina along the Columbia River on Wednesday evening.

It was the second fire at the restaurant in 3½ months.

Employees smelled something burning and found smoke coming out of the ceiling in the restaurant’s office. They called 911 at 7:19 p.m. and evacuated an estimated 150 employees and customers before firefighters arrived.

No one was hurt.

“We were just sitting around, and they asked us to leave,” customer John Klip said. He was at the restaurant with his mother and sister.

About two hours earlier, Vancouver fire crews fought a piling fire at the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay.

At Who Song & Larry’s, five fire engines and crews from Vancouver and Fire District 6 arrived at 111 S.E. Columbia Way within four minutes; firefighters found smoke and flames coming from the roof above the office, said Dave James of the Vancouver Fire Department.

The 25 responding firefighters removed metal sheeting and used chain saws to cut into the roof so smoke could escape from the building. They ran hose lines into the restaurant in the effort.

Sprinkler heads in the restaurant attic activated, but crews shut them off to limit water damage, James said. Once the fire was under control, firefighters removed pieces of the roof that could reignite. A restoration company was on the scene Wednesday night.

James praised the quick response of the restaurant employees, as did a customer.

“They were very professional and everybody was very calm,” diner Yvonne Rodgers said.

A fire also occurred at Who Song & Larry’s on May 21. The two-alarm fire that started in the attic significantly damaged the building, which was closed until May 25.

For Wednesday’s fire, the restaurant is not expected to reopen for several days, fire officials said.

Who Song & Larry’s has occupied a spot on the north bank of the Columbia River, just east of the Interstate 5 Bridge, for nearly 30 years, and predates Waterfront Park. The building is worth an estimated $1,011,900, according to Clark County property records. RM Opco owns the restaurant, and since March 12 is the owner of El Torito and Chevy’s Fresh Mex chains, among other brands.

The cause of the Wednesday fire had was not expected to be determined for several days, fire officials said.

The Quay

The piling fire at the Quay was quickly snuffed out hours earlier.

With the charred ruins of the Thunderbird on the River hotel in plain view directly across the Columbia River, the Quay fire was controlled before it could spread into the business.

Someone who saw the smoke from the adjacent dock called 911 about 4:45 p.m., fire spokesman James said.

The fire didn’t set off alarms at the hotel. Firefighters found smoke and flames coming from a small area on the west end. They lowered a hose from one of the fire engines over the Vancouver Landing railing so firefighters could douse the fire from a small rescue boat in the river.

Mindful of the Sept. 2 conflagration that destroyed the much larger Thunderbird hotel, formerly the Quay’s sister property, firefighters called for multiple units and an assist from the Portland Fire Bureau’s rescue boat stationed at Hayden Island.

Vancouver firefighters got the fire under control in 10 minutes.

“That just illustrates our need for a boat with firefighting capabilities,” James said. The Vancouver Fire Department is waiting on a grant from FEMA to get a marine quick response vessel.

The hotel and restaurant, a Vancouver fixture for decades, is built on a pier over the Columbia River. The pilings underneath the Quay are treated with creosote, a flammable petroleum-based product used to protect wood from water damage.

“We’re fortunate the fire was small, but that’s a significant exposure,” James said.

The site is owned by the Port of Vancouver, and the business is operated by Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corp. The hotel and restaurant at 100 Columbia St. just downstream from the Interstate 5 Bridge, remained open for business.

The cause had not been determined by The Columbian’s press time.

Columbian Metro Editor Craig Brown contributed to this report.