Olympia restaurants’ fiery pasts

One of the oldest seafood restaurants in Washington, The Oyster House, burnt down this summer in downtown Olympia for the third time in its history.

Emmett O’Connell, a ThurstonTalk reporter, said the first Oyster House fire happened in 1946 and the second in 1957. The building was rebuilt after each fire.

Tom Barrett, owner of the The Oyster House for the last 17 years, was called shortly after midnight at his home to notify him of the July 19 fire, according to a ThurstonTalk.com article.

The fire department arrived at 12:22 a.m., finding fire near the kitchen, said a ThurstonTalk.com reporter. The reporter said this fire had 10 engines, two ladder trucks, two medic units and three support vehicles responding.

“The fire overwhelmed the building. At about 12:45 a.m. we went defensive and started pouring water from the outside,” Greg Wright, Olympia deputy fire chief, told a reporter.

ThurstonTalk reported the Olympia fire department controlled the fire at 2:35 a.m. The Oyster House was left with a collapsed roof and only its exterior walls still standing. No one was in the building at the time of the fire.

Barrett told Jeremy Pawloski, reporter for The Olympian, they plan to rebuild the restaurant as soon as possible.

KMAS news and radio said investigators determined the fire originated from a spontaneous combustion in the clothes dryer. KMAS news said cleaning towels left inside dryers can smolder for hours. Greases and oils on towels used for cleaning are not always completely washed out, leaving them at risk of catching fire.

The aftermath of the Oyster House fire. Courtesy of Komo 4 Television

The aftermath of the Oyster House fire.
Courtesy of Komo 4 Television

Restaurants catching fire is no new phenomenon. King Solomon’s Reef and Ramblin Jack’s Restaurant are both downtown Olympia buildings that have caught fire.

Justin and Lindi McIntyre became owners of King Solomon’s Reef (aka “The Reef”) in the 2010, the year of the restaurant’s second fire.

A faulty thermostat on a deep fryer and a faulty fire suppression system caused the 2008 fire, said McIntyre. A spontaneous combustion starting in the clothes dryer also caused The Reef’s 2010 fire, said McIntyre. He said it was a “very trying, hard thing to deal with.”

Fires happen so often in the restaurant business because they have to deal with a lot of oil and heat, said McIntyre. The fire in February 2010 cost the business a total insurance claim of half a million dollars and 15 months of closure. McIntyre said they were “very fortunate to have a really good insurance company” and loyal customers to help make business successful.

McIntyre added that the restaurant no longer does onsite laundry and recently had its fire suppression system updated since the 2011 reopening.

Staff writer Nate Hulings from The Olympian said Ramblin Jack’s reopened in May 2011 after smoke damage from an inflamed neighboring warehouse.

Olympia Fire Marshall Robert Bradley could not determine what caused the fire.

Owners of Ramblin Jack’s said replacing the carpet, putting on fresh paint and throwing out all the food cost them over $20,000.