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Sunday, September 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Firefighters respond again to massive fire at glass company in east Spokane

UPDATED: Wed., May 1, 2019, 9:23 p.m.

Spokane firefighters responded to a fire at Tormino’s Sash and Glass, 102 N. Helena, about 3:50 a.m. Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Will Campbell / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane firefighters responded to a fire at Tormino’s Sash and Glass, 102 N. Helena, about 3:50 a.m. Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Will Campbell / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jonathan Glover and Will Campbell The Spokesman-Review

For the second time in two years, the Tormino family could only watch Wednesday as the building that housed their father’s business burned.

As if that misfortune wasn’t enough, the second eruption of fire happened a day before the two-year anniversary of their father’s death. It was also days before the building – where John Tormino ran his bargain-priced window and door company called Tormino’s Sash and Glass for 65 years – was scheduled to be demolished.

“It was supposed to come down six months ago,” said Tormino’s daughter Patti Thayer, as she stood in front of the mangled pile of blackened wood and warped metal held together by walls of solid concrete. “What happened?”

About 40 firefighters from the Spokane Fire Department responded to the fire and smoke billowing from the building at Helena Street and Riverside Avenue at about 3:50 a.m. Wednesday.

Mark John, deputy fire chief for the Spokane Fire Department, said by the time firefighters arrived, it was determined too intense to enter. Instead, they deemed it a “defensive fire” and doused the flames from outside.

No injuries were reported, though the building didn’t fare as well: One wall on the east end collapsed.

Fire investigators were on scene shortly after. While no official cause has been released, John said transients were reportedly staying in the building as recently as Tuesday.

“The building was abandoned,” he said. “It’s highly likely that it was a warming fire.”

The earlier fire at the building occurred in November 2017. Since then, the structure has been fenced-off and abandoned. A representative at Rob’s Demolition said Wednesday the building was scheduled to be demolished later this month, but due to the fire, it has been fast-tracked to Thursday.

Standing outside the structure early Wednesday morning was Thayer, the sister of John Tormino Jr., the current owner and operator of Sash and Glass. Tormino Jr. was in Arizona, he said.

With tears in her eyes as she watched the fire, Thayer recalled how her father started the business in 1950 with a plan and a smile.

“He’d set a little table up,” she said, pointing toward Sprague Avenue. “Right over there.”

Tormino’s Sash and Glass now sells windows and bargain-priced doors now at a new location in the East Central neighborhood.

The oldest Tormino said in a Spokesman-Review interview seven years ago that his first product was a wood-frame storm door. Its proceeds led to more doors, more windows and eventually a full-fledged business.

By 1952, he’d moved his start-up into the building at 102 N. Helena St., where he hung a sign that served as a beacon for hard-to-find windows and doors.

Years later, the family still owns at least nine properties around the East Sprague District, including the Vien Dong building and houses used to store glass.

Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said glass and wood stored in the burned building played a role in creating fuel for Wednesday’s fire.

Tormino Jr. said he believed the fire was started by a homeless person. Ever since the first incident, he said he’s had to kick multiple people off his property.

“I’m repairing that fence along that old burned structure at least once a week,” he said.

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