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City Asks Federal Agents To Probe Warehouse Fire

Fri., March 28, 1997

Some of the federal agents who investigated the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings are in Spokane to find out what caused a fire that gutted a wood-filled warehouse.

The two-alarm blaze caused at least $250,000 damage to Allied Cedar Products in Hillyard late Wednesday.

Puzzled fire investigators have asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for help.

“We can’t come up with a reason why this fire occurred,” said Fire Marshal Garry Miller.

ATF agents called in from throughout the West may start their investigation today.

The fire started shortly before 10 p.m., about five hours after the last workers left. The owner of the 12-employee company at 3818 E. Rowan suspects arson.

“It’s not like we had old antiquated wiring or had things that were combustible around,” said Pat Vanwert . “This looks planned.”

A fire gutted the same warehouse last July 13, said Vanwert, who has owned the business at Rowan and Julia for three years.

Fire officials ruled that blaze an arson, but no arrests have been made.

Ruth Lucero, who lives across the street from the warehouse, was out walking her dogs minutes before Wednesday’s fire started.

“It was quiet out here,” she said. “I was walking through the house later and - wham! - fire.”

Flames shot high in the air as two ladder crews soaked the perimeter of the 10,000-square-foot building to keep the fire from spreading. The blaze, battled by 30 firefighters, was extinguished about two hours later.

Vanwert said he’s convinced the timing of the fires is “well calculated … We had $100,000 in completed work that was getting ready to be sent out just before the first fire.

“With this one, we were just months away from expanding on the building that burned,” he said.

Vanwert said he’s “trying not to get to paranoid” about the possibility that his business has been hit twice by arsonists in eight months.

The destroyed building is connected to a turn-of-the-century structure that once housed the Columbia School.

Miller said the burned building used to be the school’s gymnasium.

Firefighters saved the old school, which houses the company’s offices, but Vanwert said some finished products in one section were destroyed.

The company makes cedar gazebos, lawn furniture, skirting for hot tubs and other items.

Allied Cedar is the only business in the area that doesn’t have a security fence. Most other businesses have chain-link fences topped with barbed wire.

By contrast, stacks of lumber and bricks at Allied Cedar lie uncovered in an open lot.

“We didn’t want to put a $10,000, $15,000 fence around that material because we were going to enclose that area by expanding the building real soon,” Vanwert said.

Vanwert said he hopes to reopen early next week at a temporary location a few blocks away.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo


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