Structure burns to the ground on Obstruction Island
By COLLEEN ARMSTRONG
Islands Sounder Publisher, Editor
December 21, 2009 · Updated 2:35 PM
Along with exquisite wood, tools, boat sails, and important documents, Jeffrey Unterschuetz lost his dreams for the future when his two-story shop burned to the ground just a week before Christmas.
“Jeffrey is devastated. What is gone is a building, and things but, more importantly, what is gone are his dreams, what he thought about and saved for,” his wife Caroline Buchanan said. “He was planning to get into more serious woodworking when he retired. He also had parts from his 1951 John Alden wooden sloop, “Coquette,” which is currently at Deer Harbor Boatworks involved in a major overhaul. Her new Dacron sails were stored in the office and are gone. Also in the office were many of our business records, including all of this year’s tax data, which had been entered on the computer. Also destroyed is a 1944 military jeep, which he was restoring. He had just paid for a new motor.”
Reports of heavy black smoke and visible flames at the tree top level brought Orcas Fire and Rescue to Obstruction Pass on Dec. 18. Firefighter Seth Ybarra and EMT Hilary Canty were in the area and responded in a private boat, arriving first on the scene of a fully involved structure fire. No one was at home at the time.
Sheriff Bill Cumming and Orcas Fire Chief Harris agreed to do whatever was possible to help. Several engines, Rescue 21 and even the Basic Life Support Unit worked together to gather supplies and board the barge “Henry Island” that was in the area. Lt. Rich Harvey supplied his four-wheel drive truck to haul equipment. Obstruction Island residents also arrived at the barge to assist with moving equipment and personnel up the steep hillside to the fire location.
There was little that could be done by the time the crew and tools were on scene, but Orcas Fire says that thanks to the homeowners' diligence in property clean-up and Fire Wise measures, it did not spread to any other structures.
At the time of the fire, Unterschuetz was working on a guest cabin on the other side of the island. When he came home for a late lunch, he found a huge fire where his shop used to be. He immediately began helping fight the flames with his excavator, which he had to hot wire to start, as one of its parts was in the burning structure. But his efforts proved futile.
County Fire Marshal Rob Low says the cause is undetermined at this time. There were no injuries and all responders were back on Orcas Island by 5 p.m.
“Neighbors helping neighbors, you just have to do what ever you can,” Incident Commander Capt. Rick Anda said. “That’s what this business is all about. I just wish we could have done more.”
Buchanan was on Orcas shopping with her grandson when she heard about the fire.
“We got to the pass about 4:20 p.m.,” she said. “The pass was filled with fire trucks. We learned there was a structure fire on Obstruction, and that it was our place but not the house.That was quite a boat ride home. We were still able to see the fire through the trees.”firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-360-376-4500.