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Fire chars business in heart of downtown Vashon

Firefighters finish extinguishing the blaze at IFC International/Jones and Stokes on Bank Road Saturday, Aug. 16. - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
Firefighters finish extinguishing the blaze at IFC International/Jones and Stokes on Bank Road Saturday, Aug. 16.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

An environmental consulting business on Bank Road caught fire at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 16 — one of the three biggest fires on the Island in the last year, said Bob Larsen, Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) assistant chief.

IFC International/Jones and Stoke, located just east of Café Luna and in the same green concrete block building, suffered heavy heat damage and smoke damage throughout its interior from the fire, which originated from an air-conditioning unit in the business’s computer server room, Larsen said.

A fire marshal’s investigation that took place immediately after the fire was extinguished determined the malfunctioning air-conditioning unit was the cause of the fire.

The 10-feet-square server room, on the southeast corner of the building — the front right corner if looking at the building from Bank Road — had a wall filled with a bank of computer servers, which went nearly to the top of the ceiling, Larsen said.

“Firefighters made entry; there was a really hot fire going on in the first room,” Larsen said.

The crew used a technique called “hydraulic ventilation” to draw heat and smoke out of the computer server room by spraying water out its window, Larsen said.

After extinguishing the fire, the crew checked whether or not the fire had extended into other rooms. It hadn’t, but the smoke damage was extensive.

“The culprit, the stand-alone air-conditioning unit, basically produced a lot of flames and created enough smoke to permeate through the whole office and coat everything with a very thick layer of black soot,” said Jason Volk, a senior consultant at the business. “It has a really awful stench. It’s a very pungent, burning plastic kind of smell.”

He said the majority of the damage at the business is the smoke damage, since all the data on the computer servers was backed up off-site.

The Vashon business, which creates computer models for state, federal and tribal clients trying to develop plans for salmon recovery in the Northwest and California, has eight employees, many of whom live on the Island. They will either work from home or commute to IFC/Jones and Stoke’s newly opened Seattle office, said Greg Blair, the company’s project manager.

He said the office will be gutted and the drywall and carpets replaced before work can resume there. The business will return to that location once it is redone, he said, which should be in a few months.

Café Luna was spared the brunt of the fire because of a concrete block dividing wall that ran from floor to roof.

The café was “a full house” at the time of the fire, said owner Natalie Sheard.

She quickly evacuated her customers, moved her car and hoped for the best.

“When I was watching it burn, I thought, ‘I am dead, this dream is over,’” she said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I love having Café Luna, and I’m not ready to end that.”

She said she realized Saturday that she doesn’t have enough insurance to cover an incident of this magnitude, and she “just might double it.”

“You wouldn’t think that an office would have a fire,” Sheard said. “It makes you realize that fires do happen.”

The surfaces at Café Luna, too, were covered with a layer of grime from the fire, and staff there spent the better part of Saturday cleaning up the eatery.

The Bank Road fire station is two doors away from where the fire occurred, and responders arrived two minutes after receiving the 911 call, Larsen said.

Thirty VIFR firefighters, volunteer and career, responded to the call, and VIFR brought its firefighting vehicles in force — all its tenders, or water-carrying vehicles, from Dockton and Burton, and its ladder truck.

Ladder truck used

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