Fire destroys Rosario building

Orcas Island firefighters fight the Rosario fire defensively from behind a propane tank. From left are Capt. George Dimich, Dani Becker, Damien Stark, Rich Harvey and Joellene Versailles. - Jim Prades
Orcas Island firefighters fight the Rosario fire defensively from behind a propane tank. From left are Capt. George Dimich, Dani Becker, Damien Stark, Rich Harvey and Joellene Versailles.
— image credit: Jim Prades

Laundry and maintenance facility is completely destroyed

Rosario Resort’s satellite building which housed its laundry and maintenance items was destroyed by a fire Monday morning, Feb. 11. The building was a total loss, according to Orcas Island Fire Department Public Safety Officer Max Jones.

Things could have been a whole lot worse. There are two large propane tanks near the building. Had either or both caught on fire, a huge explosion could have occurred, and the fire spread over a large area.

It didn’t reach the adjacent Cascade Harbor Inn building, and it burned only a few nearby trees.

And perhaps most importantly, nobody was hurt.

Orcas Island firefirefighters managed to keep the fire from spreading. They were fortunate that the fire occurred on a day when there was no wind at all.

For a time, it appeared that detergents and other chemicals escaping from the burning building may have created pollution problems in the bay. Spectators reported seeing “green material” flowing into the creeks and bay, according to Julie Knight, of the Islands Oil Spill Association (IOSA).

Knight went to the scene and examined the condition of the bay. She determined that the bay likely escaped environmental damage. Representatives from the state Department of Ecology were at the scene Monday night to do additional checks. The department’s findings were unavailable at press time.

The fire came at a difficult time for Rosario, which is scheduled to resume full seven-day-a-week operations next Monday. Rosario has been accepting guests to its resort only on weekends during the dead of winter.

The resort used the slow period to repair and paint the building, and stock the building with a year’s supply of new linens, bedding and uniforms. Rosario General Manager Tom Juliano admitted it will be a “tough week” replacing the maintenance tools and laundry supplies and equipment in less than a week. Dollar value of the losses was not known at press time.

The fire, which apparently started in a second floor storage area between the office and shop, was reported at 7:08 a.m. Monday. First on the scene was paramedic Jim Prades, at 7:23 a.m. He reported heavy smoke and flames.

Before long firefighters from all of Orcas Island were dispatched to the scene, but officers quickly concluded that the fire was so intense that crews could not remain in the building. Had they done so, Jones said, they would have been in extreme danger.

Meanwhile, a decision was made to call firefighters from San Juan Island. It’s the first time within memory in which firefighters from one island joined a fight on another island. The Washington State Ferry assisted by turning the inter-island ferry around at the north end of Shaw Island and returning it to Friday Harbor to pick up the additional firefighters.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Department met the off-island firefighters at the ferry landing and gave them a red light escort to the fire. They arrived a little after 10 a.m. and were immediately put to work, Jones said, because many of their Orcas counterparts were exhausted by this time.

The fire was declared under control at 9:47 a.m., but overhaul and mop up operations continued until late afternoon.

Island Excavating was called in to assist with overhaul.

Due to extreme safety concerns and partial structural collapse, the building was ordered demolished so firefighters could completely extinguish the smoldering fire.

Thirty-nine Orcas firefighters, six fire engines, two water tenders, the rescue squad, aid unit, and auxiliary support team all responded, as did 16 firefighters, a compressed air foam engine, and a ladder truck - engine from San Juan Island.

Cause of the fire was undetermined at press time.

— Ted Grossman is editor of and The Islands’ Sounder. He can be reached at (360) 376-4500 or email.

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