Patient service representative Delores Meza was at work in the Providence Valley Family Physicians office at 7 a.m. on Sept. 19, when she heard something odd. There was a patient in the waiting room and a doctor in back.
“I had just got up and walked back to where the doctor was because I had heard a noise,” she said. “While I was there it blew up. Then we ran.”
A fire had begun in the offices of oral surgeons Drs. Kenji Higuchi and Daniel Skinner next door in the Valley Mission Professional Building. Fire investigators know it began in a room full of oxygen and nitrous oxide tanks and that at least one of the tanks exploded, but haven’t determined the cause of the fire yet.
“I heard maybe three little booms before the big one,” Meza said. “I had no idea what was going on.”
Everyone avoided injury, including the patient. “She got up just in time and missed most of the ceiling falling on her,” Meza said. “The waiting room ceiling fell and it was full of smoke.”
Building owner Ron Ogle said it will cost between $1.5 and $1.7 million to repair the building, and it will take about six months. Some offices that were not as damaged may be able to open in three or four months. One business has already opened in the building’s parking lot and several others have moved to temporary locations.
The area that will take the longest to repair is the oral surgery office that was the site of the explosion and fire. “It’s the explosion that did all the damage,” Ogle said. “It actually leveled one area. There’s not even studs standing.”
Projectiles were blown into the ceiling, which is cracked. Sheetrock was blown off the walls in some areas. Shattered window glass traveled up to 70 feet. “That all can be repaired,” he said.
Ogle had just finished doing a lot of work on the building, including updating the foyer, repainting, putting in new sidewalks and repaving the parking lot. But he doesn’t mind that his hard work went up in smoke. “I was more interested in the people being safe,” he said. “Even if you have to tear it all down, you can rebuild.”
Ogle points to what he calls miracles that took place that morning. People in a doctor’s office moved at just the right time to avoid being injured. A woman in the parking lot was shielded from flying glass by her car. The woman who reported the fire left the office to warn other tenants. “That saved her life,” Ogle said.
Nearly two weeks after the fire the six businesses housed in the building are picking themselves up and moving on. Once the building was declared structurally sound, all the tenants were able to go in and retrieve electronic equipment and patient records. All but two have found temporary space so they can continue serving their patients.
Dentist Tom Conlon’s office is at the back of the building, farthest from the explosion. Ogle said he believes that office can be cleaned up and open for business in two weeks or so. “I hope Ron’s right,” said Conlon. “We have the least amount of damage. It’s smoke damage only. All the ceiling tiles are gone. They’ve cleaned the ducts.”
Office staff is working to contact people with appointments, but with no firm reopening date the appointments can’t be rescheduled. Conlon said he’s glad no one was hurt. “The fact that it happened at 7 o’clock instead of 8:30 or 9 saved carnage,” he said. “I’m sure people would have been killed or injured.”
He was also heartened by the immediate response of his fellow dentists. “I had a dozen dentists contact me and offer space,” he said.
Employees at Valley Mission Homecare Pharmacy were returning messages before the day was over. Two days later they hauled in a rented office trailer with a locking room to store medication and opened for business in the building’s parking lot.
The pharmacy handles prescriptions as well as medical equipment like crutches, wheelchairs, hospital beds and knee scooters. All the products inside the building at the time of the explosion will have to be destroyed, said pharmacy manager Karin Redmond. Everything is covered in soot. “It’s pretty insidious,” she said. “It’s just plain dirty and smelly. We can’t be too careful.”
Employees are still analyzing their inventory to see how much the lost inventory will cost them. “I don’t want to throw out an estimate,” Redmond said. The pharmacy plans to remain in the trailer in the parking lot until the office is repaired. “The ceiling has to be completely pulled out and replaced,” she said. “It’s going to hopefully be better than before.”
The doctors at Spokane Obstetrics and Gynecology have moved to their downtown office in the Sacred Heart Doctors building and are seeing patients there for now. “We will eventually be finding a temporary location in the Valley,” said office manager Patty Kollenborn. “It’s pretty cozy here. Short term we can do it.”
Office staff has been calling patients to let them know of the new location and adjust appointment times if necessary. Kollenborn is upbeat about moving back into the offices in the Valley Mission Professional Building directly above the oral surgery office. “We get to go back to a brand new space, which is exciting,” she said.
Providence Valley Family Physicians began seeing patients in the Fifth and Brown Medical Building in downtown Spokane only three days after the explosion. They will stay there until the building is repaired.
Summit Rehabilitation moved to 15413 E. Valleyway Ave., Building A, Suite 101 and opened up on Monday. Patients are being contacted to give them the new address.
Doctors Higuchi and Skinner are still searching for temporary office space.