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UPDATED: Cause of overnight fire at old downtown Tacoma brewery is undetermined

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on July 7, 2011 at 8:06 am |
July 7, 2011 3:36 pm

UPDATE at 2:30 p.m.: Fire investigators have ruled the fire started in the top floor of the brewery building. However, they  were not able to determine the cause, Tacoma fire spokesman Joe Meinecke said.

“There are no obvious signs that the fire was deliberately set or suspicious in nature,” he said.

ORIGINAL POST:

Tacoma fire investigators will be searching this morning for what sparked a fire overnight at the old Columbia-Heidelberg Brewery site in downtown Tacoma.

Flames damaged the roof and upper floors of the middle part of the 80-year-old complex near South 21st and C streets, which is being demolished.

Smoke and water also poured into an adjacent warehouse that is used by the Pierce County Toys for Tots program to store about 25,000 toys. Tacoma firefighters had put tarps over the donated toys and clothes in an attempt to spare them from damage from the blaze.

Ed Troyer, the coordinator for the program, said the main concern is trying to salvage as many of the toys as possible. Crews will be evaluating the damage to toys, clothes and other donated items this morning.

“We are about as good as we can possibly be with what happened,” Troyer said this morning. “It’s looking better every hour.”

The caretaker living in a portion of the old Columbia-Heidelberg Brewery complex called 911 just before 11:50 p.m. Wednesday to report flames on the roof, Tacoma fire and police reported.

They found a well-established fire on the roof and the upper floor of the former brewery. Flames were visible.

The department went to a second alarm at 12:22 a.m., bringing more firefighters to the scene, the department reported.

Firefighters poured water on the flames from ladder trucks and tried to prevent the fire from spreading to connected buildings.

“It was a defensive strategy,” said Tacoma fire spokesman Joe Meinecke. “It was too risky for our firefighters to go inside.”

Crews were able to contain the blaze to the middle building. No injuries were reported.

The north end of the complex has been partially torn down, Tacoma fire spokesman Joe Meinecke said.

Earlier this year, the owners of the old brewery got permission to demolish the structures. The demolition was originally scheduled to be completed this summer.

The city filed a dangerous building complaint on the old brewery last year. An inspection found a host of problems, including unstable walls, an unsafe electrical system and standing water. A letter to the owners also noted combustible debris on the roof from a previous fire and that an apartment inside the complex was non-permitted and illegal.

The original brewhouse was built in 1900. In the mid-1930s, the current buildings were constructed. They were repeatedly modernized with remodels and expansions, according to a report prepared in 2008.

Firefighters remain on the scene this morning, looking for fire hot spots.

Meanwhile, volunteers with Toys for Tots and the Marine Corps League were working to clear the smoke out of their toy warehouse, which shares a wall with the south end of the brewery complex. They opened the doors and were using fans.

“We’re not going to know what the stuffed animals and clothes are going to smell like for a week,” Troyer said.

Troyer commended the firefighters for their efforts to save the inventory.

“If it wasn’t for the Tacoma firefighters, we would be in big trouble,” Troyer said. “We are just going to have to ride that out.”

The donations are used for the Toys for Tots program during the holiday season.

During each of the past two years, Toys for Tots has given away between 49,000 and 51,000 toys during the holiday season.

Troyer said the program has about 100 new bikes with water and soot on them. A crew will be working to clean those off in the next day or two so they don’t rust.

Staff photographer Janet Jensen contributed to this report.
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