Joel Building Goes Up In Smoke

SPOKANE – An early morning fire in the Joel Building blew up into a three-alarm blaze that required the mobilization of the entire Spokane Fire Department.

Within six hours of the fire being called in investigators – including members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms – were looking into the cause of the fire, which was called in near 4:45 a.m. as a dumpster fire at the Joel Building, located at 161 S. Post in downtown Spokane.

Initially Spokane fire crews took an offensive posture on the fire and attacked it from inside the building however a little over an hour into the attack around 6 a.m. the fire started spreading outward from the basement to the rest of the building.

“It was thick … we were crawling, if you lifted your head you couldn’t see at all. Conditions pretty tough,” Spokane Firefighter Dan Wilson with Engine #3 said.

At approximately 7:30 a.m. the fire had exploded.

The fire department called in three alarms on the blaze and Spokane Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer says they moved from an offensive position to a defensive position because of the intensity of the blaze.

“Spokane has a reputation of being aggressive with internal fires, but when the basement got too hot we pulled out crews out, because they would not survive that kind of heat,” Firefighter John Griffiths with Engine #3 said.

In addition to marshaling the resources of the entire Spokane Fire Department neighboring agencies were called in to assist.

“Anytime there is a big fire like this one, other resources from Spokane County have been called in, we have nine engines including three ladder trucks,” Spokane Valley Deputy Fire Marshal Bill Clifford said.

Initially fire crews said that chemicals in one of the building’s tenants – Dorian Photography Studios – were causing problems for the firefighters however people with Dorian Photography Studios said they had switched to all digital photography.

The Joel Building is home to both Dorian Studio and Churchill’s Steakhouse. The building is also home to a condominium development owned by local developer Ron Wells. In all 16 condos – dubbed the Lofts at Joel – were under construction with eight of them already spoken for.

The 16 units were located on the second and top floor of the building with eight units per floor.

“It’s terrible, but happy that no one had moved in yet,” Sarah Leverett-Main, one of the investors in the Lofts at Joel project said.

Contractors said they were finishing up work on the condos, with plans to do some drywall work Thursday and follow up with painting on Friday. The condos were just about finished and were set to open at the end of the month, according to general contractor William Morin, who was working on the Lofts at Joel project.

The condos on the top floor were nearly completed, as Morin pointed out, with the units on the second floor expected to be finished within the next several months. Two of the top floor units had already been sold and another unit had been likely to sell. The units ranged in price from $221,000 to $317,000.

Project owners don’t know the extent of the damage to the structure.

Construction has been underway on the project for two years and was described as “a project of love” for developers Bill Main, Sarah Leverett-Main and Ron Wells. They felt that renovating the building was “something you do because you love the building, not to make money” and they were hoping for a grand opening sometime this coming September.

Contractor William Morin suggested there had been a lack of fire prevention equipment near where the blaze started helped to hamper firefighting efforts early on.

“The condos and Churchill’s both had fire protection sprinklers in the building, Dorian’s did not have sprinklers, and that is probably why it caught on fire,” Morin said.

Sarah Leverett-Main says once they learn the extent of the damage they will decide if it’s economically feasible to proceed with the condos.

While investigators don’t know yet what caused the fire, others like Spokane resident Thomas Naimo do know that the Joel Building fire will leave a lasting mark on the Lilac City.

“It’s going to devastate a little of the history of Spokane,” he said.