Coming back.

April 2011 cover“BEEP, BEEP, BEEP” . . . a defective security device at the west entrance of NO. 10 6th St. played its insistent alarm. For several days before the fateful fire of December 16 on Astoria’s historic waterfront, the thing apparently needing a battery, annoyed the hell out of just about everyone. Now in retrospect it was as if the historic structure – once home to Bumble Bee executives and waterfront factory that boxed the cans of gold, oily tuna – was calling out a warning.

As building tenants got word and came to the scene to watch the flames engulf one of Astoria’s most famous 20th century restaurants, there was some relief and hope that the multiplex NO. 10 would escape destruction. As the night grew on, and the building exploded in flames, shock, heartbreak, and confusion resided.

The Astoria Fire Department had been called to a single dwelling fire – and by the time they arrived, the second fire was discovered. Astoria Fire Chief Leonard Hanson sent in his volunteer A-man, Kevin Miller. The west end of the ground floor was a blaze. Even for Miller, of whom Hanson describes as dangerously courageous, he knew that the fire had already breached security levels and resources to fight what would become that towering inferno on the Astoria Waterfront.

As we watched the puffing smoke travel easterly across the roof of the building, water hoses were readying their attack for when the fire would break through.

Roofs are made to shed water – until there is an opening, pouring water on them is futile.

“There was one good thing happening that night. It was the east wind,” says Hanson.

Hanson’s main job that night was to contain the fire in a building they could not save. “Even if there had been a “fire boat,” it would not have effected the complexity of the fire.” And Hanson reiterates, “Most fire fighting is containment. It is structures equipped with sprinkler systems that may prevent total destruction, and save lives.”

Hanson informed that Astoria Fire Department and Clatsop County in general have limited resources, but like many affected in the outcome of this fire, and in our stories that follow in this issue — analysis of systems has been key to rising from the ashes.

Currently being put in place in the region is a Mutual Aid Agreement that now will give counties the green light to emergency notify other counties for assistance. Prior to this, counties would have to request aid through the Governors Office, two hours post a fire call. A part of this has to do with various state and county department’s liability coverage. In any case, this is a seemingly logical right thing, that the Washington Peninsula can call on Astoria, Astoria on Clatskanie, on St. Helens, and so on. And that up until this point – this resource was not in place.

It was on January 30, six weeks after the fire, that tenants, who would benefit from salvaging through the ruins, were finally given access. Why did we have to wait so long? In addition to state and federal investigation, 18 private insurance investigations were taking place. Says Hanson, “It’s the insurance companies that bring in the costly, high level forensic specialists. The list of specialists for this assignment was impressive, and while Astoria Fire Department was not officially involved in an investigation, often findings will be shared with us. “

As of this writing, the formal investigation is nearing closure. According to various sources, the hypothesis stands that one Broan Nutone ceiling fan in the men’s bathroom of the Cannery Cafe caught on fire, that the source of the NO. 10 fire was related to the fire at the Cannery Café, and that findings are the same; there are no findings as to what that specific relationship was.

We wait.

In a phone conversation with Eric Jacobson of the Jacobsen Group and receiver in the financial status of the property due for foreclosure that December, he informs that the foreclosure was postponed, NO. 10 6th St. Group still holds title. Pending the outcome of an insurance settlement, full ownership may go back to NO. 10 6th St. Group. “It’s a great property. Something great should be done with it,” said Jacobsen.

Angel on No. 10
After 6 weeks - we hauled smoky, wet computer cases down the darkened corridors of the once vibrant No. 10, in great anticipation of what they may produce ... an angel was watching over. Photo composite: Les Kanekuni .

On January 30, family, friends and hipfish crew, retrieved six computers, back-up hard drives that I had neglected to bring to off-site storage, and through piles of debris uncovered 12 years of archived hard copy hipfish, some partially burnt, smoky, extremely wet, as they were in an uncovered section of the upper building that must have undergone gallons and gallons of water pouring into the storage bins.

Some 120 issues of 12 years of hipfish are drying out, in storage. All hipfish file archives were recovered, save some glitches. Some of the computers even turned on – albeit the toxic smoke made it necessary to heave them as soon as the hard drives were extracted. Everything else, except for a few pickings, was singed beyond recoup. Six years in the space, the list is long. Like all victims of fire and catastrophe, we deal.

On the bright side, HIPFiSH has acquired a new location. Similar to NO. 10 6th St., 1017 Marine Dr., the Occident Building, is a vintage property rejuvenated by native Astorians, Jason Palmberg and Jeff Canessa. It’s a beautiful space with fantastic neighbors, and part of the continued burgeoning cultural scene in Astoria.

Long hidden from public view (as I affectionately called it, the HIPFiSH inner sanctum), Suite 205 was situated in between the outer hallways of the building, and the only space in the building that had retained the high factory beam ceilings. I would often greet colleagues on the phone with, “Fish Factory!”

In addition to setting up shop – this location will be something new for HIPFiSH, offering a great space to hold events; events that the publication has long supported and produced. We miss all the tenants that we so long communed with, and I don’t know how many hundreds of people had their photo taken for an article on the River Walk, with the old canneries providing a backdrop. But we are looking forward to a new way of being in the community.

The outpouring of appreciation and contributions to myself and the folks that do so much to put the regions alternative rag on the racks every month, reinforced the mission! We graciously thank ye all. Hipfish at the time of the fire was getting ready to take a break to work on making a better publication. While we have experienced a set back, it’s all being taken into perspective.

Chief Leonard Hanson said to me, “Dinah, 80% of independent businesses destroyed by fire, don’t come back. “

I guess we beat the odds.