Sheriff expresses gratitude for community response to April 7 act of arson

by Ron Krebs

San Juan County Sheriff

On April 7th, the town of Friday Harbor was changed forever by an act of arson.

There are no words to describe how it felt to arrive on scene and see the scope and magnitude of the fire. It was devastating to watch our iconic downtown burn. The destruction was extensive and the unanswered questions of how and why weighed heavily on all of us. An immediate investigation into the cause of the fire quickly resulted in the identification and arrest of the suspect, giving some small closure to those questions, for which I am grateful, and we can now concentrate on healing and rebuilding.

To the many businesses affected by this tragedy, my heart goes out to you, for the senseless loss you have experienced. May you rebuild swiftly and thrive once again.

To the people who so unfairly lost their jobs and livelihood, I hope you find new employment and continued prosperity here. It is heartwarming to see all the support being offered to you by fellow businesses and community members.

To my community, who I grieved with over the destruction of our historic downtown, my spirit is lifted by the outpouring of love, generosity and support you have provided. You are the heart and soul of our islands, a shining light during the darkest time. I appreciate you so much.

So many individuals and agencies assisted on April 7th, and I would like to take a moment to personally acknowledge and thank the many men and women who worked so heroically that morning. I would also like to recognize the overwhelming support first responders were shown by the community. To anyone I may have missed in the chaos or inadvertently overlooked, you are appreciated, and I thank you as well for your contributions.

To Gene Wilson, what a blessing you were up early to catch the ferry and reported the fire before it spread further.

To San Juan Island Fire and Rescue, for your swift response and tireless efforts, you are a credit to our community. Thank you for the countless hours of training that prepared you for this moment.

To Assistant Fire Chief Noel Monin, who’s quick decisions, calm professionalism and decisive action saved the Cask and Schooner and other businesses in the block.

To the Washington State Ferries, who diverted to pick up equipment and personnel from Orcas Island Fire and Rescue and for their boat crew who pitched in to help fight the fire, what an amazing resource you are.

To Orcas Island Fire and Rescue for mustering an immediate response of personnel and fire equipment. Your assistance was vital in controlling and extinguishing the fire and I appreciate your collaboration more than words can convey.

To Lopez Island Fire and Rescue who sent personnel via the Sheriff’s boat Sentinel and all the other off island fire agencies who sent equipment and personnel. Thank you for your community spirit and much needed assistance.

To San Juan EMS who worked tirelessly, setting up and manning the rehab station for all firefighters. The respite you offered to the weary was essential, keeping them fit for duty so they could continue to battle the blaze. And to members of the current EMS class, including Kevin Ranker and Deputy Isaac Norton who also came to assist, exemplifying community involvement and the passion to serve which is so prevalent here.

To the OPALCO line workers and the Town of Friday Harbor Water Department who were on scene, securing power and making sure the water supply was up to the demands. Your efforts kept the town safe and functioning.

To Mike Goff and Justin Nibbler of the Town of Friday Harbor Road crew, who were instrumental in setting up barricades to help reroute traffic, keeping both first responders and bystanders safe.

To Robin DeLazerda, Kyna Moore and all the San Juan County Dispatchers, who seamlessly organized these vital details amid the chaos that morning, leaving first responders able to fully concentrate on fighting the fire. You are unsung heroes everyday but especially that day.

To my own San Juan County Sheriff’s Office deputies, who maintained a safe perimeter during the fire and provided around the clock, week-long protection to the scene while the investigation was underway. Thank you for your professionalism and support. I appreciate your willingness to go above and beyond your normal duties and the contributions you made to facilitate the investigation.

To detectives Lukas Peter and Ray Harvey for the hours you put in away from your families investigating this crime resulting in the swift apprehension of the suspect.

Also, a special thank you to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives National Response Team. You treated this tragedy with professionalism and empathy as if it had happened in your own backyard. You helped a grieving community with your thorough investigation that led to the arrest of the suspect.

And finally, to everyone in the community who showed up with water, food, and comfort. The outpouring of support for our first responders was a heartwarming bright spot that grim morning and I cannot thank you enough, from the bottom of my heart, for everything that was done for us, for the words of encouragement and support you offered. I will always remember your kind acts that morning.

I can honestly say, I have never been more proud to be part of a community, and of all our first responders, for the way everyone pulled together as one big family. There is no better place to call home and no better community to be at home in. Thank you, Friday Harbor and all of San Juan County.