by Lin McNulty
It was accidental. That is the ruling from Paul Turner, San Juan County Fire Marshall.
The Fire Department investigated the rubble at the fire scene today [Feb. 11] and was able to rule out arson, and to rule out an electrical problem as a cause of the fire which shocked the island.
The fire which destroyed The Exchange on Saturday started in a garbage can. Someone “testing” a microwave, just before The Exchange closed, tossed a smoking or steaming cloth of some sort into a nearby garbage can; that garbage can contained flammable or combustible material. It was puzzling that the building was so quickly engulfed.
Anecdotal evidence indicates the item placed into the microwave might have been something such as a wrapped-up ACE bandage, as a “rubbery” smell was observed. Although the outside might have been cool when removed from the garbage can, the inside was still hot (as microwaves cook from the inside out).
The Exchange has served the Orcas community for 30 years as the place to share reusable items. Many islanders have contributed or received products from The Exchange over the years, and it is often a “must-see” stop for tourists.
Interviews with witnesses at the scene did not reveal the name of the person who was observed testing the microwave, although many said they do recognize the face. Turner stresses that the fire is ruled an accident—an unfortunate accident, with no charges pending whatsoever.
Plans are currently underway to clear and clean-up the area. “The site remains off-limits as it is still a hazardous area,” says Mark DeTray, Exchange Executive Director and on-site manager. Rebuilding is expected to happen in one-two months, but plans remain uncertain at this time.
The main thing, says DeTray, will be to get The Exchange “restocked.” Keep this in mind as you begin your Spring cleaning. The Exchange will need your re-usable items.
The community awaits word on how to rebuild this Orcas Island icon.