Five-Alarm Fire Destroys Vacant Oregon Hotel

Crews will continued to mop up on Monday and Tuesday at the vacant Thunderbird on the River on Hayden Island where fire early Sunday morning destroyed the hotel, sending spectacular flames into the night sky.

It is considered the biggest local fire in more than a decade and its cause probably will not be known for days.

"We haven't had a five-alarm fire since 1999," said Ron Rouse, fire inspector for Portland Fire & Rescue. The blaze broke out at 2:53 a.m.

The 352-room hotel, vacant since 2005, is just west of the Interstate 5 Bridge and directly across from the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay in Vancouver. It was built by Vancouver's Tod McClaskey and Ridgefield's Ed Pietz, who sold their 54-unit hotel empire in 1884. The hotel once was rumored to next be a Walmart store, but plans fell through.

"The bulk of the fire is out," Rouse said about 12:30 Sunday afternoon. He said it was under control at 7 a.m. but added firefighters were hitting "hot spots."

"We'll have crews on the scene for the next two days. ... Our investigators will not be able to get through the rubble for 48 hours," Rouse said.

The hotel is just west of the Interstate 5 Bridge and traffic was crawling at 1 p.m. as motorists stared at the rubble as they crept across the bridge. Spectators were on the bridge's southbound walkway, many taking photos. Smoke continued waft over the bridge.

Rouse said early Sunday morning the smoke was so thick that motorists could barely see to cross. The southbound lanes were closed from 3:15 a.m. to 6 a.m., the Washington State Department of Transportation reported.

Asked about the cause, Rouse said, "We have no idea."

Asked about possible suspects, he said, "Now, there is a lot of transients in the area," but said he could not place blame.

"Our investigators will not be able to get though the rubble for 48 hours," Rouse said.

An estimated 165 firefighters helped on the effort, including two fire engine companies from Vancouver Fire Department.

"We have 39 apparatus that have responded, including three fireboats," Rouse said. He is a Washougal resident.

Rouse noted firefighters fought the fire from the outside, for safety sake. Earlier, the department have placed large letter U's on buildings, indicating the buildings were not safe to enter. The hotel had a central building and five wings and "four of the wings collapsed," Rouse said.

"One of the roofs (the eastern wing) was totally opened up," shooting flames into the sky and choking the air with smoke, Rouse said. He said the hotel was fully involved when firefighters reached the scene.

Earlier concern

In February, the Hayden Island Neighborhood Network group met and its minutes indicate neighbors were worried about the hotel. Those minutes read: "Audience asked about the abandoned Red Lion/Thunderbird and West Hayden Island properties regarding vagrants. Both properties have private security firms that patrol the areas. Port rep Brooke Berglund explained that the transients are aware of trespassing laws and generally are living on the DSL State Lands, thereby avoiding confrontation with police. Officer (Anthony) Zoeller also explained that being on Port property is not an arrestable offence."

Copyright 2012 - The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service