Editor’s note: This story was originally published May 10, 2001.
Ninety-three years of history went up in flames May 9, 2001, afternoon when the Moore Mansion caught fire as managers were preparing for a large party.
About 200 people watched as firefighters battled flames that left the historical landmark a total loss.
Pasco Fire Chief Greg Garcia said the noon fire started in a basement telephone room, worked its way up the interior walls and into the attic before breaking through the roof. The age of the wood helped the blaze burn fast and hot, he said.
“When the captain walked into the basement with his infrared camera, it showed the whole inside of the wall on fire going straight up, “ Garcia said. “The fire was already (out of control).”
Garcia said there was a slight delay in reaching the attic flames because firefighters had to break through three ceilings, then pull back because it was becoming unsafe. However, he said even if they had gotten to them sooner, it wouldn’t have made a difference in saving the structure.
When the captain walked into the basement with his infrared camera, it showed the whole inside of the wall on fire going straight up. The fire was already (out of control).
Pasco Fire Chief Greg Garcia
About three hours later, crews from Pasco, Kennewick, Richland, Franklin County Fire District 3 and Walla Walla County Fire District 5 had the fire under control and started pulling out of the three-story building. Another fire flared up between the walls, but a firefighter was able to put it out through a crawl space, Garcia said.
Thirty-six firefighters responded with seven engines, two ladder trucks and two other support vehicles. Benton County Fire District 4 was called in with a second air truck to refill firefighters’ oxygen tanks.
No one was injured, Garcia said.
Officials had not determined the cause late Wednesday. Damage was estimated at more than $1 million, he said.
“We’re keeping a police officer on scene overnight so we can preserve the scene, and we’re going to start an investigation tomorrow, “ Garcia said late Wednesday night. “They’re going to tear it apart and find out where it started and how it started.”
Fire hoses were connected to three hydrants in the area, with a fourth available on nearby Road 36, Garcia said.
Bob Alberts, Pasco’s public works director, said his department was asked early on to boost the water pressure. His crews at the water plant on 13th Avenue and A Street immediately checked to make sure the pump valves were completely open and increased the pressure.
Alberts said requests for more water pressure are not unusual in big fires, depending on the location.
$1 million The amount of damage estimated on May 9, 2001
Susan and John Collins, owners of the building since Nov. 20, said they had insurance for the business, but that didn’t help ease their distress. The couple sat on the levee behind the mansion, watching chunks of burning roof fall onto the second-story terrace and windows shatter from the intense heat.
“What’s there to say? There’s no way of knowing what the extent is, “ John Collins said while hugging his distraught wife.
“Oh, Jesus, get some water on this end, “ he shouted as flames emerged from the east side of the building.
John Collins said he still has hopes of salvaging the mansion, even though it looked like a fiery tornado ripped through the place.
Cars slowed to a crawl in the southbound lanes of the blue bridge Wednesday afternoon as motorists initially saw flames curling along the mansion’s roof. The Washington State Patrol reported no fender benders from the delays.
Subsequent black smoke billowing above the building drew hundreds of Pasco residents who had never known a time when the mansion wasn’t a symbol of the town.
Spectators, many with cameras and video cameras, lined Road 34 and Hopkins Street at the entryway to the mansion and the levee along the Columbia River. People also gathered on boats and personal watercraft on the river near the mansion. Police and fire officials tried dispersing the crowds for safety reasons, but people just didn’t want to leave.
“It’s a crime, “ said Pasco native Anita King. In the late 1950s, the mansion had been converted into a nursing home, and she recalled how she would take her accordion to the home to play for the residents.
“It’s kind of a city icon. To see something like this go down , “ said Jason Sowder of Pasco, who was standing on the levee with his wife and children.
It’s a landmark, and they’ve tried for so many years to preserve it and save it. And then this happens.
Daryl Vooge of Pasco
Daryl Vooge of Pasco, who lived on Road 35 as a child, said he remembers delivering the newspaper to the mansion in the 1960s. He now lives on the other side of the blue bridge but was drawn to watch flames consume the historical mansion.
“It would probably be comparable to the (Franklin County) courthouse burning down, “ Vooge said. “It’s a landmark, and they’ve tried for so many years to preserve it and save it. And then this happens.”
Jack Carr spent $800,000 to $1.2 million more than 10 years ago renovating and remodeling the mansion and the adjacent property, said Pasco Planner David McDonald.
During those renovations, the building was re-sided, the plumbing and electrical systems replaced and old woodwork stripped from the walls. Carr also planted poplar trees, added the rod iron entrance gate and reroofed it, McDonald said.
In recent years since the mansion was renovated as a restaurant, neighbors often watched brides and grooms ride past their homes in a horse-drawn carriage, said JoAnn Matthias, who lives nearby. With its manicured lawns, ornate pillars and wide verandas, the mansion was a popular site for prom dinners, weddings and holiday and anniversary celebrations.
“It’s a beautiful building, “ Matthias said. As she spoke, flames began to lick through the roof, and a spray of water from a fire hose kicked off shingles.
Dita Zabudil was supposed to get married at the mansion in three weeks.
Now, Zabudil, 24, of Richland, and her mother, Lydia, are frantically looking for a new place to have the June 2 wedding. “I’m just in shock, and my daughter’s crying, “ Lydia Zabudil said.
And Susan Tanska has been planning her daughter’s June 23 wedding at the mansion since the beginning of the year. Her daughter Amy lives in New York and has had her mother take care of the arrangements.
“Her fiance says he wonders if this is a sign from God, “ said Susan Tanska, of Burbank.
Her daughter chose the mansion because the ceremony could be held indoors or outdoors, depending on weather.
“It was absolutely perfect in my book, “ Susan Tanska said.
Palmer Farm Bed & Breakfast already had gotten one call Wednesday afternoon about booking a wedding that was going to be held at the mansion. Unfortunately, the Benton City business was already booked that weekend, owner Virginia McKenna said.
“It’s really hard, “ said Melinda McLenegan as she watched the mansion burn from outside its decorative iron fence. She worked as a bookkeeper for two previous owners of the mansion and said she “never had a boring day” working in such beautiful surroundings.
McLenegan described the birds-eye maple woodwork inside the mansion, wood that was barged up the Columbia River after a Seattle hotel was demolished.
The 11 curved, optically correct windows that graced the living room appeared unharmed. They were imported from Sweden in 1907, when James Moore built the mansion for his wife, McLenegan said.
Among the crowds gathered on the Columbia River levee to watch the fire was Crane Bergdahl of Pasco. “There’s a lot of history going down the tubes right there, “ he said.