Peninsula hotel destroyed by fire
Monday, May 15, 2006
QUILCENE, Jefferson County — An historic inn
on the Olympic Peninsula that advertised itself as
a "back door" into the Olympic Mountains
was destroyed by fire midday today.
Five fire departments and the Jefferson County Sheriff's
Department responded to the fire which was reported
at 12:04 p.m.
There was no damage estimate immediately available,
but officials said the building appeared to be a total
The landmark structure had been evacuated and there
were no reports of injuries, according to sheriff's
spokesman Luke Bogues.
The Quilcene Hotel was built in 1917 as an inn for
loggers and hunters.
According to a website, the all-wood structure became
famous for its Saturday night fried chicken dinners
Investigators probing Quilcene Hotel fire focus on
QUILCENE -- Investigators examining the smoldering
remains of the Quilcene Hotel on Tuesday think that
the fire originated in the lint trap of a clothes
Two Seattle-based special agents from the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Dane
Whetsel and David Johnsen, joined Quilcene Fire Chief
Bob Wilson and East Jefferson Fire-Rescue Chief Mike
Mingee in gathering information on the midday Monday
fire that destroyed the 1917 hotel in less than one
Investigators spent most of Tuesday on the west side
of the site where the clothes dryer sat in a utility
They analyzed the charred appliance and took photos.
``We're trying to re-create what happened in that
corner of the building,'' said Wilson.
``On the preliminary investigation, we're leaning
toward the dryer lint trap. But the investigation
is still ongoing.''
The investigators discounted an eyewitness' report
Monday that a trash bin was on fire just before the
blaze broke out in the two-story, wooden hotel.
The investigators worked methodically throughout
the afternoon, shoveling ashes and pouring them slowly
on to the ground like a gold miner and his pan, so
as not to miss a key piece of evidence.
More water might not have stopped Quilcene
The towering, voracious fire that consumed the historic
Quilcene Hotel would probably have been unstoppable
even if there had been quicker access to more water,
Quilcene Fire Chief Bob Wilson said Tuesday.
The fire started sometime around noon on Monday.
Co-owner Kathleen Emmerson heard a noise in her kitchen
and opened the door to see the room filled with smoke.
She fled with their dog and called 911, said her husband,
He said there were no guests inside.
Wilson said he and Quilcene firefighter Kevin Croft
arrived just minutes after the first call from the
county’s emergency dispatch center.
“We saw the smoke and we were in the engine
before the tone came out,” Wilson said.
They arrived with 1,000 gallons of water, which he
said was hardly enough to control the rapidly spreading
fire. They used a hose to try containing it to one
corner of the building, but the two-story structure
was quickly engulfed in flames.
Wilson said the wooden structure – built in
1917 – was so flammable that “you’re
not going to stop it once it gets a hold.”
Several more of Wilson’s Fire District 2 (Quilcene/Dabob)
volunteers arrived minutes after he did, and then
volunteers from other districts began arriving steadily.
It was nearly 10 minutes before a tanker carrying
an additional 3,000 gallons of water arrived, he noted.
One group of firefighters trained a hose on the towering
flames. A superior told them to save the water.
So the firefighters went on the defensive, soaking
nearby homes and the hotel’s guest cottage to
keep those from catching fire as they were pounded
by intense heat. Wilson estimated the fire’s
temperature at 1,500 degrees – hot enough, he
said, to ignite buildings from a distance.
Between 35 and 40 firefighters from five fire districts
(Quilcene, East Jefferson, Brinnon, Port Ludlow and
Discovery Bay) responded and used between 20,000 and
30,000 gallons of water, officials said. No other
The cause of the fire, which Puget Sound Energy officials
said knocked out electrical power for 966 customers,
remains under investigation. One witness said he had
seen a fire in a dumpster behind the hotel send flames
licking up the back of the building.
Wilson hoped an arson investigation team would finish
its work Tuesday, but he said it could be as long
as a month before he can publish a final report.
Seattle TV news helicopters circled overhead as the
fire spewed black smoke. Dozens of residents stood
and watched the building burn.
Hotel co-owner Rick Emmerson was among them.
“I knew once it started there was no way to
put it out,” he said, shaking his head. “That
Emmerson said he and his wife, Kathleen, had been
filling the hotel with antique furniture since buying
it six years ago.
“We were getting a pretty nice collection going,”
They lived in the hotel, and their clothing and personal
belongings were inside. Emmerson said they’d
now live in the guest cottage.
Some people have already stopped by to inquire about
setting up an account for donations for the Emmersons
at the U.S. Bank in Quilcene, a bank representative
Lifelong Quilcene resident Sandy Oen was saddened
by the hotel’s destruction. Oen, standing a
hundred yards from the fire, said he was close to
Ray and Virginia Corley, who bought the hotel in 1947.
He used to fix their car at his garage in the late
1950s, he said.
“It’s been here all my life. It’s
been here since I was a little boy,” he said.
“That’s going back. Real sad to see it
Connie Gallant watched as the fire slowly shrank.
She said the hotel was a beloved community fixture.
“It’s akin to Aldrich’s in Port
Townsend – what it meant to the community,”
Monday’s fire is certainly the largest the
county has seen since the August 2003 Aldrich’s
market fire, in which 50 firefighters used more than
750,000 gallons of water to keep it from spreading.
Wilson said this was the largest fire he had seen
in Quilcene in roughly 20 years.
There is no public water system in Quilcene, so there
are no fire hydrants. A $430,000 public water project
now planned includes five hydrants, said Jefferson
County Public Utilities District Manager Jim Parker.
He said one would be installed just a block from
the Quilcene Hotel site. Lydel Construction Inc. of
Poulsbo will likely begin work in June and should
finish the project in 90 days, Parker said.
Chief Wilson said having a hydrant there might have
helped some, but that the building’s age and
structure largely determined its fate.
Quilcene Hotel fire loss put at $750,000
QUILCENE -- Although not all the damages have been
assessed in Monday's fire that destroyed the 89-year-old
Quilcene Hotel, Fire Chief Bob Wilson on Wednesday
estimated that the loss totals about $750,000.
The owners, Rick and Kathleen Emmerson, had spent
the six years they owned the historic hotel by filling
it with antique furniture and items, and renovating
Kathleen Emmerson said Tuesday that material or monetary
losses do not compare to the sentimental losses such
as a scrapbook of mementos of their daughter's youth,
and a lifetime of poetry Kathleen had written and
was planning to try to get published.