The report of the cause of the August 18 fire that destroyed Downriggers Restaurant was released this morning by the Port of Friday Harbor Commissioners.
"The ignition sequence began when the rodent chewed through the hot and neutral/ground conductors, allowing the bare conductors to come in contact, creating an electrical arc. Heat from the electrical arc ignited the remaining plastic insulation material. Flames from the burning plastic insulation spread to the nearby wooden wall studs."
The fire traveled upward within the wall space, burning through the lower wooden roof. The fire traveled horizontally along the space between the metal and wooden roofs, eventually venting to the exterior in the area of the kitchen exhaust ducting."
The investigation was conducted by Unified Investigation & Sciences, Inc of Lakewood.
The fire was caused by heat from an electrical arc within the wall space between the southeast area of the kitchen and the southwest area of the wait area.
A rodent had chewed through electrical conductors within the wall space, causing the exposed bare hot conductor to come in contact with the neutral or ground conductor. Heat from the arcing conductors ignited localized combustible material with high surface area to mass ratio, such as porous wood material, shredded PVC wiring insulation, and other rodent debris.
FIRE SCENE EXAMINATION
Individuals present during the scene examination were origin and cause fire investigators for the Downriggers Restaurant insurance company, San Juan Marina insurance company, San Juan Safari insurance company, San Juan County Fire District #3, and the Port of Friday Harbor insurance company. An electrical engineer and attorney for the Port of Friday Harbor insurance company was also present, along with representatives from the Port of Friday Harbor.
The multi-party exam started on Wednesday August 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm and concluded on Friday August 23, 2013 at 9:00 am.
For reference purposes the front of the structure faced west.
The single-story, wood-framed commercial restaurant was located on a sloping hill along the shoreline of the marina. The western portion of the restaurant has a large crawl space, and the eastern portion is constructed above another single-story, wood-framed building containing three occupancies.
The exterior doors and windows of the restaurant were closed prior to the fire.
The fire involved the entire restaurant, with the greatest amount of fire damage occurring within the areas known as the wait area and kitchen. The fire vented through the roof in the area of the kitchen. The fire also burned through a small section of flooring within the crawl space, above the wall mounted electrical panels, within the area of the north dining room.
The contents of each room were consistent with its use and the items were of good quality.
The entry hallway, bar/lounge and dining areas were smoke, heat and fire damaged. The area known as the "wait area" (wait staff station) east of the kitchen, and the kitchen itself, sustained severe heat, smoke and fire damage. The ceiling, located at the southern portion of the wait area and kitchen, had collapsed into the building.
Directional heat, smoke, and fire patterns, along with photographs and witness statements, were used to isolate the area of origin.
Two roofs covered the restaurant. A metal roof was located above an older wooden roof. There was a void space between the two roofs.
The cooking appliances (griddles, deep fat fryer, and stoves) were located along the west wall of the kitchen. A fire suppression and hood and duct system was located above the appliances.
The southwest area of the wait area had a metal countertop which had two commercial coffee pots. A sink was located to the north of the coffee pots, below the pass-through section of the wall. The pass-through allowed items to be passed through the wall space between the kitchen and wait area.
The interior wall space between the wait area and the kitchen was constructed of 2-inch by 6-inch wooden studs. The wall studs were covered with drywall. Sheet metal covered the drywall along the lower half of the east side kitchen wall.
Electrical conductors traversed horizontally through the wall space, between the studs. The conductors within the wall space provided power to the kitchen and wait area.
An electrical outlet that had been wired by the restaurant owner and had been utilized for a commercial toaster was located on southeast wall of the kitchen, along with other electrical outlets. The commercial toaster was not plugged into an outlet at the time of the fire.
The wall studs at the southern end of the wall space between the east side of the kitchen and the west side of the wait area had been completely consumed by the fire. A section of electrical conductor with some evidence of arcing, along with a rodent's nest and debris that included clams, mussels, cloth, small bones, plastic ornaments, etc., were found within the same area of the wall space.
The ignition sequence began when the rodent chewed through the hot and neutral/ground conductors, allowing the bare conductors to come in contact, creating an electrical arc. Heat from the electrical arc ignited the remaining plastic insulation material. Flames from the burning plastic insulation spread to the nearby wooden wall studs. The fire traveled upward within the wall space, burning through the lower wooden roof. The fire traveled horizontally along the space between the metal and wooden roofs, eventually venting to the exterior in the area of the kitchen exhaust ducting. The fire entered the interior of the building during the fire suppression activities. The fire did not spread to the businesses below.
No propane piping was located within the wall space in the area of origin. No smoking is allowed within the restaurant. Remains of a rodent's nest were found within the area of origin. An electrical engineer working in conjunction with the fire scene examination identified arcing that had occurred within the southern wall space area between the wait area and the kitchen. See Electrical Engineer report for further details.
Physical evidence was retained by the origin and cause fire investigator for Downriggers Restaurant insurance carrier. No physical evidence was retained by Unified Investigations & Sciences, Inc.
Ted Granum is a dispatcher for the San Juan County Sheriff's Office. He was the one who first discovered and reported the fire.
Mr. Granum had completed his dispatching shift and was walking to his vehicle when he observed what he initially believed to be fog in the area. He got into his vehicle and realized the fog might be smoke. While driving his vehicle through town, he observed smoke coming from the area of Downriggers Restaurant.
Mr. Granum drove to the restaurant where he observed smoke coming from all of the eaves of the restaurant.
Mr. Granum exited his vehicle, walked around the restaurant where he observed "zero visibility'' through the restaurant doors. He could also hear the sound of crackling glass coming from inside the restaurant.
Mr. Granum called the sheriff's office and reported the fire. He then walked down to the businesses below the restaurant and noticed that they did not have any smoke or flames inside. He also did not notice anyone else observing the fire.
Mr. Granum assisted with the fire department when they arrived. He remained on scene until he reported back to work at 4:00 am to assist with coordinating mutual aid and support.
San Juan Fire District #3 (San Juan Island Fire Department) was dispatched on August 17, 2013 at 2:40 am. E311 arrived on scene at 2:47 am. Lieutenant Jeremy Talbott arrived P.O.V. a few minutes before E311 arrived on scene. Lieutenant Talbott was the first officer on scene and Assistant Chief Creesy was the officer in charge.
The fire department report was not available when this report was prepared.
White smoke was observed coming from each end of the building from the soffit areas.
The exterior doors and windows were closed and forcible entry occurred through the front west side glass doors.
Firefighters Patterson and Lean were the first persons inside the building.
They entered the restaurant through the west side glass doors and encountered thick smoke. They traveled east down the hallway and then went north. They then went west and entered the area known as the ''wait area".
They entered the wait area and observed an orange glow that was visible through the pass through within the kitchen area at waist height. Two orange spots were also visible at the ceiling area of the kitchen.
They applied water from their 2 Yl-inch hose line to the ceiling area within the kitchen space. They exited the building and asked that the building be ventilated.
Fans were placed at the west side doors of the restaurant. The fans were turned on at the same time a window was broken by fire department personnel to allow the smoke to exit the interior of the restaurant. A short time later, flames were observed coming through the roof, near the kitchen exhaust system.
A woman identified as Koshi Holt was the last person to leave the Downrigger Restaurant the night of the fire. She is an employee of the restaurant.
Ms. Holt left the restaurant just after midnight. She left the hall light on, along with the light over the bar and eating area. The two coffee makers in the wait area were left on.
Ms. Holt did smell something while standing in the wait area. She described the smell as, "burnt chicken from a deep fat fryer''. She looked around the wait area and did not see anything unusual, so she exited the building through the west side glass doors. She then locked the doors and left.
COMMENTS This examination was conducted utilizing the applicable procedures recommended by NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosive Investigations, 2011 Edition. The opinions contained within this report are expressed within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty based upon the information available at the time of this report. Should additional information and/or evidence become available, the author reserves the right to supplement this report as necessary. This summary of investigative analysis is provided as instructed. Should a full reporting of analytical processes be requested, one can be provided at any time.