By Korte Brueckmann
From Nov. 19, 1976
FORKS — An early morning fire in the Woodland Hotel today destroyed the top two floors of the hotel and left 41 residents homeless.
A timely alert by a Forks policeman and quick response by the fire department allowed all of the occupants to escape without serious injury. An effort by hotel occupants saved some personal belongings, but time was not sufficient to save much.
The fire was discovered first by officer Dave Anderson at 1:39 a.m. He stopped the patrol car next to the hotel, started the siren, and radioed for the fire department.
The fire department siren a block away went off shortly after that. It is not known if the alarm in the hotel sounded, according to Phil Arbeiter, Forks fire chief. Two trucks and 15 members of the Forks volunteer fire department and one truck and the Beaver Fire Department responded.
The first response came before 2 a.m. and the blaze was finally brought under control around 4 a.m. A strong wind hindered the effort around 3 a.m.
The fire left the second and third stories of the hotel destroyed, with eight rooms on the second and five rooms on the third floor scorched but not destroyed. All other rooms on the two floors were destroyed. The first floor, with three apartments and a cafe, suffered primarily from water and smoke damage.
Building owner Clarence Fidler, a Port Angeles attorney, said the building is “probably one of the oldest commercial buildings in Forks.” He described it as a total loss after the fire,although he would not give a value for the building. He also said it was “partially insured.”
Clallam County Assessor Les Lancaster said the building had an assessed value of $20,190. Value of personal property in the restaurant was assessed at $2,726.
The state fire marshal sent Fidler a letter last summer telling him the building could no longer be used as a transient hotel, due to a change in state codes, but that its use as a boarding house was acceptable. The building was being used as a boarding house before the letter was received, according to Fidler.
Cause of the fire is under investigation by the state fire marshal, but it is thought it started on the stairs near the second floor or one of the rooms next to the stairs. Firemen used ladders to rescue at least a half dozen residents from second floor windows. All of the third floor residents were able to escape to the second floor but the stairway to the first floor was ablaze. The only injury occurred when a resident cut himself breaking a second floor window before he leaped to the ground.
“I saw a fire under the stairs, but it just looked like somebody left a cigarette so I began throwing glasses of water on it,” said Dick Livingstone, one of the hotel residents. “That didn’t work, so I started throwing waste cans of water but then the whole stab’s caught fire. Then I just dived back into my room and slammed the door shut.”
Livingstone was rescued by the firemen from his second-floor room and then went on helping others get belongings out of the building.
“My wife woke me up about quarter to two,” said Paul Haugh, a first-floor occupant. “I wasn’t too excited about it.
I thought it was just a mattress fire.” “I was at the Antlers having a few drinks with a friend,” said Jeff McLynn, a second-floor occupant.”We were walking down the street when we saw it. Smoke was pouring out of everywhere; nobody knew where the fire started. It was really something.”
“The fire department did a real good job,” Haugh added. “It never really burst into big flames. People here in Forks have got a good fire department.
They ought to be proud of them.”
Residents of the boarding hotel were mainly single men working for logging outfits in the area. During the fire they pitched in to help each other get out and get themselves out.
“We helped each other there,” Livingstone said. “We did what we could for each other until it came to a point where you had to save yourself.”
After the fire was out, firemen rummaged about the building because many of the men requested the firemen find their boots and work clothes. Most of the men managed to go to work by 6 a.m.
The fire was called the town’s biggest structural fire in 25 years by Arbeiter. He also said that the state fire marshal had prohibited renting transient rooms within the last few months because of fire concerns.
The fire department was praised by building residents and neighbors for their work in minimizing losses and protecting lives.
“I guess maybe some of that training pays off,” observed chief Arbeiter.
“Sometimes you wonder if it’s worth it, but when you have a big fire like this it all works out.” He also had praise for the Beaver Fire Department, pointing out that although the two departments do not train together, working together on this fire everything went smoothly.