Fast moving blaze guts Kingston Inn

KINGSTON — The smell of burnt wood from Tuesday night’s fire at the Kingston Inn could be detected as far away as the intersection of West Kingston and South Kingston roads Wednesday morning.

All that remained of the nearly 5,000-square foot building that had been engulfed in flames the night before were the kitchen walls and the basic framework of the building.

One side of the restaurant’s long standing yellow, red and white plastic sign had been melted into a gnarled curl. The windows in the nearest ferry tollbooth were cracked and the trim had melted. The nearby metal Washington State Ferries employee shed was charred and filled with partially-burned pieces of old green and red ferry schedules.

North Kitsap Fire & Rescue Public Information Officer Michele Laboda said she had never seen such destruction from a fire in her 11 years of service.

It only took a few minutes

Annemarie Olson, who owns The Coffee Exchange with her husband Randy just a few hundred feet away, was holding a Bible study group in her shop Tuesday night when she saw a bright flash. She and the group went to the window, only to see the Inn ablaze. Flames were shooting from the roof, reaching 40 to 50 feet in the air, she said, and people were running out of the building.

“When we were standing outside the coffee shop door, we could just feel the heat,” Olson said.

“We were wondering if it was going to take over the whole town,” added fellow Bible group member and Poulsbo Fire chaplain Ken Lundgren.

They said it only took 15 minutes for the fire to do the most damage to the building. No one was hurt.

“I’m just so glad everyone go out,” Olson said. “Wood, chairs, food, that can be replaced, but people can’t.”

Kingston Inn manager Lauri Colflodt said she heard sirens heading toward Kingston shortly before 8 p.m. and around the same time, got a call from one of her servers telling her the building was on fire.

“All I could think of was the roof — we had no problems up until now,” she said of her initial thoughts when she was told what was happening.

Earlier that day, a roofing contractor started removing the Inn’s old cedar shake shingles in preparation for a new roof.

Kingston resident Jason Scott said it didn’t take long for the blaze to spread.

He had been waiting to meet a friend from the incoming ferry when he noticed a small flame on top of the Inn’s roof. Within minutes, the fire grew in size before spreading toward eastern side of the restaurant. The entire side was engulfed just as NKF&R showed up, he said.

NKF&R officials said about three-quarters of the building was already in flames when they showed up. They had been dispatched just five minutes earlier.

Two off-duty firefighters jump into action

When Seattle firefighter Stanley Smith entered the Inn Tuesday evening, he noticed a light haze of smoke and started asking patrons if they noticed it, too. He had an employee show him the upper floor and investigated, only to come upon smoke, flames and electrical sparks in the attic access area.

Smith quickly told the employee to tell people to get out. He then searched for a fire extinguisher, only to find a pressurized water can and tried to fight the fire but it had grown too much, he said.

Smith went back downstairs and caught the eye of Eastside Fire & Rescue Lieutenant firefighter Pete Brummel, who had just entered the facility to warn patrons about the fire he had seen on the roof from the ferry terminal.

“We kind of looked at each other and he knew right away who I was and I knew right away who he was,” Smith said.

Brummel had just gotten off the Kingston-Edmonds ferry when he saw flames coming from the Kingston Inn’s roof and thought, “That’s not normal.”

Brummel ran to Washington State Ferry tollbooth and told a ferry worker to call 911. Seconds later, he entered the restaurant and informed customers that the roof was on fire and they needed to get out of the building. Some took the announcement seriously and but others just didn’t seem to react at all, he said.

When Brummel and Smith connected, they coordinated efforts to evacuate everyone and Brummel further investigated the kitchen and bathroom areas for other people.

Within less than 10 minutes, the place was completely evacuated, the roof mostly engulfed in fire, NKF&R had arrived and Brummel and Smith finally shook hands, formally introducing themselves.

They continued to offer assistance to NKF&R and the other fire agencies that had arrived on the scene — Poulsbo Fire Department, Bainbridge Island Fire, Puget Sound Federal Fire of Subase Bangor and Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue. They helped with getting water, stretching hose lines, shutting down nearby businesses and keeping bystanders out of the way and out of danger.

Brummel, who doesn’t normally take the ferry in the evening, said it was a coincidence he was on that particular boat.

“It was just really odd for the series of events, it was the right place at the right time,” Brummel said.

“I was really proud of him, basically watching him go into action,” Smith said about Brummel’s quick thinking. “I was really proud of his courage and was honored to work with him.”

Electrical problem

said probable cause

After a daylong investigation Wednesday, fire investigators determined that an ice machine, plugged into an electrical outlet with several other appliances, including a hot water heater, on the second floor was the probable cause for the fire. The area was also used as storage for items such as napkins and styrofoam to-go boxes, which fueled the fire, said Laboda.

The fact that the structure has a wood-frame and cedar shingles — which are extremely quick to burn — added to the fire’s haste, said Smith.

While an electrical fault is the probable cause, there has been no connection made between ongoing roofing work and the fire, Laboda said.

Fire officials also noted there was no sprinkler system, no monitored fire alarm system or any report of a smoke detection system, Laboda said, however, there were reports of people smelling something odd as early as 1 p.m. and that the lights had been flickering all day.

But if it hadn’t been for the two off duty firefighters, Laboda didn’t want to imagine what could have happened.

“We’re immensely grateful to them, these two off duty firefighters,” she said.

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