A fire that destroyed the Colville Reservation’s headquarters in Nespelem on Monday was an accident, the tribal chairman said fire investigators have ruled.
“The best scenario is that it was electrical,” Michael Finley said Wednesday of the blaze that was discovered shortly after 1 a.m. Monday. “They did have some K-9 dogs on site and no accelerants were found.”
The flames that razed the 38-year-old, three-story administrative building have left the Colville Confederated Tribes scrambling to reproduce legislative documents that had yet to be digitally backed up, Finley said. Personal items from tribe members with offices inside, such as wedding rings and photos of deceased family members, were also lost in the blaze. Jim Boyd, an award-winning singer-songwriter from the reservation, lost several guitars. But the tribes already had plans to construct a new facility nearby, agreeing to a design contract with two architectural firms in the days before the fire.
“We realized the building itself was antiquated,” Finley said. Administrative services were spread throughout the reservation, he said, limiting slightly the effects of the fire on the tribe’s day-to-day operations.
The new offices, to be designed by the tandem of Coeur d’Alene-based Architects West and Opsis Architecture in Portland, will total 160,000 square feet and be built near the site of the former headquarters, project architect Marcus Valentine said. Monday’s fire will speed up construction plans.
“We were already going to be on a very tight schedule to get earth moving out there,” Valentine said. The tribes hope to trim the project’s 18-month construction window down to a year, Finley said. Initial demolition on surrounding buildings to make way for the new facility could begin as early as next week.
The tribes, which include the eponymous Colville as well as 11 other nations native to Eastern and Central Washington, lost the reservation’s Chief Joseph Nez Perce Long House to an electrical fire the day after Christmas. Priceless cultural artifacts were destroyed in that fire that razed the tribes’ primary religious center.
Finley said he understands potential skepticism about the timing of the latest fire, but the emotional and cultural significance of the items lost, in addition to the findings of the investigators, rule out any foul play in his mind.
“I can’t even begin to tell what was lost in the offices of the Tribal Council,” Finley said.