Kennewick fire reminds us why we need to protect our downtowns

We were heartbroken to see 10 people lose their homes and at least seven businesses destroyed by a two-alarm fire in the heart of Kennewick’s historic downtown on Feb. 4.

The two-story building that burned was at West Kennewick Avenue and North Cascade Street. Built in 1940, it contained a mix of upstairs apartments and street-level retail and offices. The building was still standing but too unstable to enter after the flames were tamed.

One resident suffered significant burns and smoke inhalation.

We send fervent hopes for his full recovery and encourage our readers to contribute to the emergency fund established by the Historic Downtown Kennewick Partnership and 3 Rivers Community Foundation. Learn more about the fire and the fundraiser by clicking here.

Our news team visited the building in November for a series of retail stories timed to the holiday shopping season and were there when the birch trees and red cardinals were painted in the window at The Lady Bug Shoppe. Owner Cindy Mosley-Cleary selected the motif as a sign of hope for a holiday season.

The artwork remained intact as water poured out of the building after the fire – a melancholy sight but one we hope will still signal hope to everyone involved.

These charming buildings are popular spots for entrepreneurs who want to operate in downtown settings, with their historic buildings and pedestrian-friendly vibes. Kennewick, Pasco, Prosser and Benton City all have historic downtowns they want to see thrive. 

Many were constructed before modern building codes, and we believe they should be updated with sprinklers and other safety features.

The building that burned did not have a sprinkler system or an alarm system, the city of Kennewick said. There were fire/smoke detectors in units and hallways, according to owner Gary D. Earp.

Some Pasco businesses have bristled at the requirements to add sprinklers before they can open restaurants and bars. Leo Morales, owner of Pasco’s Havana Café, has implored the city to help, saying fire codes have prevented him from fully realizing his vision for his business, as we reported last September

Without such businesses, Morales and other entrepreneurs say Pasco’s vision of a thriving downtown will never happen.

Officials say sprinklers are not negotiable. The International Fire Code and prominent catastrophes nationwide involving fires breaking out in old buildings only drive home that point.

Our downtowns are worth preserving, and we salute the downtown associations who rally around these special communities to provide support – not just during the bad times but all the time.

The heartache from this fire is a reminder that the people who live and work in our downtown areas must be protected by the same measures that protect those who occupy more modern buildings.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include that the building had smoke/fire detectors in units and hallways.

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