Blaze guts Eagles Lodge, adjoining businessesBy SAMANTHA BATES and PHIL WRIGHT
of the East Oregonian
PENDLETON – Firefighters battled a blaze that destroyed half a block of downtown Thursday afternoon.More than 20 firefighters sprayed water from the ground and from atop ladders in an fervent effort to fight back the flames that consumed the roof and gutted the buildings occupied by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, Smith’s Boot and Shoe Repair, Pendleton Coffee Bean and the Oregon East Symphony offices.
Assistant Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Tyler Nokes said a common attic area allowed the fire to travel quickly between the businesses that shared the building.
Nokes surveyed the damage this morning from the corner of Southeast First Street and Frazer Avenue.
“There’s total destruction of this building,” he said.
As of this morning, Frazer was closed between Southwest First and Southeast Second streets. And Main and Southeast First streets were closed between Emigrant and Frazer, though Emigrant Avenue is open. Nokes said the streets would remain closed for most of the day.
From the street, onlookers could see sky through the charred window and doors and the collapsed roof. Tables and chairs sat overturned and blackened inside the Eagles Lodge. Inside the coffee shop, the sign reading “Pendleton Coffee Bean” was blackened over a wine rack of broken bottles.
In some of the back corners of the building, smoke still rose almost 12 hours after the fire was considered under control.
Nokes said four firefighters kept watch during the night, extinguishing flare-ups and watching to make sure no one approached the damaged buildings.
This morning, Nokes hoped the wreckage would cool down enough to begin an investigate. He also expects the hot spots to be put out, though some are difficult to get at under the collapsed roof.
Though he wasn’t sure of the cause of the fire, Nokes, like others, heard it may have been a popcorn machine inside the Eagles Lodge.
The fire started about 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
Eagles employee and bartender Monica Powell was the only employee in the lodge. She said some type of problem with the popcorn machine led to the destructive blaze.
Powell said she had turned on the popcorn machine, but hadn’t added any oil or popcorn.
She then made a phone call to cocktail waitress Gail McDaniel and within just a couple of minutes Powell said she could see smoke coming from the popcorn machine, but couldn’t determine why.
She then hastily hung up the phone, went to the machine and opened the plastic doors. That’s when she saw the machine spark and heard a loud “pop.”
“Then there were flames,” she said, still visibly shaken from the experience.
Powell didn’t run out, however.
Instead, she found the fire extinguisher, but said she couldn’t remove the pin to make it operable. That’s when she ran to the door and yelled for help.
A stranger answered her call.
Powell said a large man in a blue shirt came to her aid, removed the pin and tried to put out the spreading flames. The man then took her outside.
Richard Pointer, who made the 9-1-1 call, said he was driving up to the coffee shop, when he saw a Powell and the man running out of the Eagle’s Lodge. He said the Powell was carrying a fire extinguisher and wanted to go back in and fight the flames again. Pointer said he and the man convinced her otherwise and made the emergency call.
Pointer did not know who the man who helped Powell was.
McDaniel came to the building after Powell hung up the phone. She, like the crowd lining Frazer and Main Street could only watch as firefighters went to work.
McDaniel also tried to track down the stranger, but to no avail.
Pointer said he could see the fire in the building and asked if anyone else was inside.
“There was actually flames blowing out the door,” he said.
After learning there wasn’t, he ran around to other businesses to warn people of the fire. He said he went into the Children’s Museum of Eastern Oregon, the Country Expressions Collectibles & Antiques and Craig Office Supply. Though he walks with a cane, Pointer said “I was moving as fast as I could to get people out.”
24 firefighters from Pendleton, Pilot Rock, Hermiston and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation fought all afternoon and made major headway on the general alarm blaze.
Dawn Blalack, assistant public information officer for the fire, said the fire was under control around 7:30 p.m. Thursday night.
Nokes said the firefighters contained the blaze at a brick firewall between Oregon East Symphony and Country Expressions Collectibles & Antiques.
“That brick fire wall, that was our last line,” Nokes said.