Community rallies around downtown Kennewick fire victims

A dramatic early morning fire on Feb. 4 destroyed a downtown Kennewick building that contained six second-floor apartments and five street-level businesses.

The cause of the fire, which sent flames into the darkened sky and left downtown covered with a layer of ash the following day, was unknown, said Kennewick Fire Chief Chad Michael.

The city confirmed the building did not have a sprinkler system or an alarm system. Owner Gary Earp said it had fire/smoke detectors in all units and hallways.

Eight adults and two children living in the apartments escaped, with at least one taken to a hospital for burns and smoke inhalation.

The building at 304 W. Kennewick Ave. at Cascade Street was also home to The Lady Bug Shoppe, Neal Wilson Insurance Agency, Squeaky Clean Janitorial, Ashiatsu Massage Tri-Cities and The Social Club hair salon.

The fire also forced neighboring businesses, including Foodies Kennewick and Desert Gem & Appraisal, to close.

Foodies said it would lose all its equipment after the city posted an order to vacate on its door. The restaurant said it would shift its staff to its location at Richland’s Parkway. It is also launching its Foodies On the Go food truck. 

In the immediate aftermath, the community was coming together to support victims.

The Historic Downtown Kennewick Partnership, is teaming with 3 Rivers Community Foundation to raise relief money. Donate at bit.ly/KennewickFireFund.

Stephanie Button, executive director, said “every penny” donated will go to victims.

Cindy Mosley-Cleary, owner of the Lady Bug Shoppe, spent the morning of the fire watching crews mop up while smoke and steam still vented from the charred building. Her gift and home décor shop appeared intact, but the 1940-built structure was too unstable to enter and was later fenced off for public safety.

Mosley-Cleary was featured on the cover of the November 2021 edition of the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business, when it published a package of retail stories featuring small businesses in the downtowns of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland on the eve of the holiday shopping season.

At the time, she was having her storefront decorated for the holidays and had just laid in a large inventory of home décor items, gifts, toys and the popular CC beanies she carries – having ordered big when supply chain issues started rattling retailers.

As artist Alicia Michaliszyn of Allusions Art & Design painted a winter scene of white birches with red cardinals, Mosley-Cleary said she chose the cardinal as a symbol of hope for a successful season.

The birches and the birds remained on the unbroken window after the fire. Mosley-Cleary said she expected the inventory to be a total loss, but that the business would survive in some fashion.

Neal Wilson said he was unable to get into his insurance office to assess the damage, but he expected it to be a total loss.

Wilson said he was more fortunate than most – his losses amounted to a few computers, desks and other office furniture. He said he can work anywhere he has a phone and laptop, including his home office.

His business insurance policy will cover the damaged property, including renting new space. But even the insurance agent couldn’t cover everything – he’d decorated his one-man office with pictures from his daughters, photos of his father and grandfather and an antique map he bought downtown.

“Those are the things that are the biggest losses. There are some things we can’t insure in life,” he said.

The fire department said it was alerted to the fire at 5:37 a.m. Feb. 4 and responded in just over four minutes.

Unable to safely fight the fire from inside, crews blasted water from above, using ladder trucks.

They were also in neighboring buildings to keep the flames from spreading.

The Pasco Fire Department, Benton Fire District 1 and Richland Fire & Emergency Services responded to the two-alarm fire.

The Red Cross responded to assist the tenants who lived in apartments on the second floor. At least one fundraiser was started for a woman and her cousin, who shared an apartment with their children.

HDKP canceled its 2022 downtown network breakfast, which was scheduled for the morning of the fire

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify that the building had fire/smoke detectors.

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