Demolition equipment operated by Servpro Restoration Services takes a respite from demolishing the second floor façade of the burned-out Heritage Building on East Main Street last week. ROBERT WHALE, Auburn Reporter

Demolition equipment operated by Servpro Restoration Services takes a respite from demolishing the second floor façade of the burned-out Heritage Building on East Main Street last week. ROBERT WHALE, Auburn Reporter

In aftermath of devastating fire, community shows its heart

Cleanup, investigation continue as city recovers from Heritage Building blaze

Water has drowned the fire, wind has scattered the smoke and the American Red Cross is busy trying to find places where the 39 residents whom the Heritage Building fire displaced can live.

And the community is responding with a big heart.

“Our heart is heavy as a community for the families and business owners who have lost so much, but I am also uplifted by the immense outpouring of love and compassion from our city and region during this difficult time,” said Mayor Nancy Backus. “I am also deeply grateful to our first responders whose skill and dedication ensured that this event did not become a larger tragedy. We will work together in the coming days, weeks and months to assist all involved in any way possible with their recovery,”

People who want to help should direct all food, clothing and monetary donations to the Auburn Food Bank at 930 18th Place NE. In particular need are towels, washcloths, toiletries, new or gently-used adult clothing, no-cook or ready-to-eat food items and money.

City economic development staff have begun outreach to the affected businesses to help with recovery and rehabilitation efforts. City Human Services and Emergency Management staff are working with displaced residents to provide essential items during the short-term and help with long-term housing coordination. Red Cross staff are currently providing food, showers, medical assistance and day and evening shelter for displaced residents.

Meanwhile, various entities are investigating the inferno that started in a dryer in a second floor laundry room of the building at 134 East Main on Dec. 26 and went on to torch the structure.

Because of the extensive damage, the City last week posted an order of no entry to the entire building. Main Street between Auburn Avenue and Auburn Way North was closed to through traffic. although businesses on the north side of the street could still be accessed by foot.

Westbound Main Street between Auburn Way and Auburn Avenue reopened Tuesday afternoon.

Eastbound Main Street and sidewalks/parking on the south side of the roadway between Auburn Avenue and B Street NE and sidewalks/parking along the south side of Heritage Building remained closed Tuesday until further notice for safety and to allow the cleanup to continue, City officials said.

One big question awaiting an answer is this: is the 96-year-old building, which housed 35 apartments and nine businesses, a total loss? And what about the fate of those businesses, which number Henry’s Home Plate Tavern, State Farm Insurance and U-Float?

Two pending reports should supply the answer.

Valley Regional Fire Authority investigators are working with the Liberty Mutual insurance company to finish an analysis that determines the cause. According to a memo written by Jason Krum, a building official for the City of Auburn, the team expects to wrap up its investigation within days and then announce what it has found.

A structural engineer who inspected the building Dec. 28 is preparing the second report.

According to Dana Hinman, administrative director for the City of Auburn, the structural engineer suggested removal of the second floor façade on the north side to prevent collapse onto the sidewalks and Main Street below. Servpro Restoration Services picked up the permit for the demolition work late last week.

Only five displaced residents were left in the shelter at Cascade Middle School as of last week. Jamie Hill of the American Red Cross said she is working to find them a place before the shelter closes, perhaps by Jan. 8

Casey Broom of the Emergency Management Division of the state of Washington is preparing a declaration that allows residents and businesses to get Small Business Administration loans as needed. To qualify, for physical losses, at least 25 persons must be involved with 40 percent (10) of that number being underinsured. For economic losses, five or more businesses must report economic losses.

What that does is open the door for SBA low interest loans to help displaced residents and businesses. The timeline is 60 days to report physical losses and 120 days for economic losses.

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