Two fires in Olga labeled ‘suspicious’ | Updated

Orcas Island Fire and Rescue was dispatched to two working structure fires in Olga on July 19. Both scenes are under investigation by the San Juan County Fire Marshal’s Office and are labeled "suspicious in nature."

Two fires in Olga last week have been labeled “suspicious in nature.”

Orcas Island Fire and Rescue was dispatched to the Orcas Artworks and a residential structure that were both ablaze in the early morning hours of July 19.

“The investigation team is doing all we can to get to the bottom of these fires and prevent anything like this from happening again,” said Orcas Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien.

The incidents are under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Sheriff’s Office, the San Juan County Fire Marshal’s Office and all three island fire departments.

A house fire with explosions in Olga’s Willis Lane neighborhood in June has been classified as arson, but O’Brien says he can’t say if the three fires are related. That incident was called in at 3:15 a.m. on June 7.

Anyone who has information about the fires is asked to call Fire Marshal Paul Turner at 376-2331. There is a reward of up to $10,000.

If community members see any suspicious behavior in regards to arson in the coming weeks, they are asked to call 911.

The Olga fires

The first call came in at 3:01 a.m. on July 19 as a smoke investigation, and crews found the Orcas Artworks on fire and called in a full response. The fire was mainly on the east side of the building with the majority of damage to the exterior and ceiling as well as smoke damage in the interior. It is estimated that 30 percent of the building was involved. It took crews 30 minutes to extinguish the main body of the fire.

At 3:29 a.m. the second structure fire was called in at Willis Lane, which is less than three miles from the Artworks. Available crews responded to the fire and extinguished the two-story residential structure, which was 50 percent involved in flames.

San Juan Island’s fire boat Confidence transported additional firefighters from San Juan and Lopez to help with the clean up and property salvage efforts. Firefighters worked on extinguishing difficult hot spots in the roof structure of the Artworks building throughout Friday and Saturday. There were no injuries to civilians or firefighters.

O’Brien thanked the volunteer firefighters, OIFR Auxiliary and community members who assisted with the clean-up effort and provided support to the emergency crews.

A treasured Orcas Island destination, the Artworks offers art and crafts from more than 40 local artisans. It was established in 1981 and is owned and operated by the artists. The co-op shares its historic building, a renovated strawberry packing plant, with the Cafe Olga, owned by Bobby Olmsted and Bev Simko. It is expected that  the building will take months to repair.

“The Artworks is a community of artists, not a building,” said artist James Hardman, who has a gallery of his work in the Artworks loft. “We have 32 years of experience in collaboration and cooperation. We have learned how to be there for each other through good times and bad times. We are creative people, and in the long term we will create something even better. In the short term, though, we have many people whose immediate livelihood is severely threatened.”

Tax deductible donations to help victims of the fire can be sent to the Olga Strawberry Council at P.O. Box 214, Olga, WA 98279. Note either: “Artists” or “Cafe.”