April 7, 2022
Fire damages historic downtown Friday Harbor buildings
Nancy DeVaux

Flames rage inside the building housing San Juan Island’s oldest tavern, as firefighters from throughout the islands work to contain the blaze. (Jeff Iverson photo © 2022)

April 7, 2022
Fire damages historic downtown Friday Harbor buildings
Nancy DeVaux

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Updated April 8, 2022; 11:47 a.m.:

Residents of Friday Harbor stood along the streets in shock throughout the day on Thursday watching fire suppression efforts and destruction of several historic buildings. At the end of the day, Kimberly Kimple of the San Juan County Fire District reported that a total of six structures sustained fire damage, three of which were a total loss.

Initial assessment of losses is estimated at $10 million dollars, according to fire officials.

In 1917, a grocery store occupied the space most recently housing Herb’s Tavern in Friday Harbor. (Photo courtesy San Juan Historical Museum)

The building that housed Windermere Real Estate, where the fire originated,  was built in 1880. Herb’s Tavern, originally a grocery store, was built in 1892. 

Generations of islanders have shared on social media their memories of times spent in these buildings, particularly at Herb’s. Previous owners and their families, musical performers and patrons are recalling the good times they had. 

Patty Brightman’s story has some common themes: “I still see so clearly in my memory the day I met my husband in Herb’s (in 2003). I can still see his smile as he walked up and asked me to dance. Every time I walked into Herb’s after he passed the scene would flash though my mind and I would smile. I will miss that place and all the many memories.”

At least six businesses are closed due to the fire damage. The Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council have begun collecting donations via GoFundMe to assist the businesses.

Cause of the fire is still unknown and investigation is anticipated to be ongoing throughout the coming week. The regional fire investigation task force is assisting local fire officials due to the magnitude of this fire. 

Originally posted April 7, 2022; 1:05 p.m.:

No one was injured in an early-morning blaze on lower Spring Street in Friday Harbor that was reported when it drew the attention of a passing driver at 3:43 am.

According to Kimberley Kimple, Public Information Officer for San Juan County Fire Protection District #2, the fire spread throughout an attic space and into neighboring buildings.  

Fire departments from Orcas and Lopez islands joined San Juan Island firefighters, with the early-morning ferry diverting to pick up crews. Ferry crews also provided some additional aid on-site and with crowd control, according to Kimple. Sheriff and EMS crews also assisted.

By late afternoon, the fire had been extinguished. (Nancy DeVaux photo © 2022) [Updated April 7, 2022; 3:30 p.m.]

The fire was still producing heavy smoke by mid-day. Kimple said heavy fire suppression would be needed throughout the day. Three more additional fire trucks were being brought in from the mainland, in addition to a team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, who will investigate the cause of the fire.

Three structures were damaged including at least four businesses: Herb’s Tavern, the Crow’s Nest coffee shop, Windermere Real Estate and Crystal Seas Kayaks. The full extent of damage is still being assessed. 

Herb’s Tavern is the oldest tavern in Friday Harbor and a popular restaurant for nightlife. It had just reopened for karaoke in March, after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.

Chamber of Commerce Director Becki Day said that a Go-Fund Me page is already being set up by the Economic Development Council to assist the businesses. “Our community always rallies around to help when this type of tragedy occurs,” she noted.

It was 20 years ago this year when another big fire engulfed the other side of Spring Street, originating in the corner Friday Harbor Grocery. The Office of Homeland Security now occupies that location.

— Reported by Nancy DeVaux

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