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Alert employee saves Bay Street Ale House from fire

A downtown Port Orchard business might have gone up in flames earlier this week if an employee hadn’t sought the source of mysterious smoke Tuesday night, according to South Kitsap Fire and Rescue.

Deputy Chief Steve Wright said a fire was discovered underneath the Bay Street Ale House around 11 p.m. Sept. 8 after an employee closing up the business noticed “smoke and haze” in front of the building.

“If the employee hadn’t caught it, we would have been down there an hour later with a good chunk of our downtown on fire,” Wright said, explaining that after searching inside, outside and on the roof of the building, SKFR crews eventually discovered that the source of the fire was underneath.

Wright said there is a cigarette ash can in front of the Ale House, and a cigarette had apparently rolled down a gap between the sidewalk and the building’s front wall.

“There was a (two-foot high) fire already burning underneath there,” Wright said.

Todd Waterman, owner and manager of the Ale House, said it was cook Adrien Coderre who noticed the smoke Tuesday night and called the fire department.

“He smelled smoke and went outside, and saw it billowing out the top of the building (where the upstairs apartment is),” Waterman said, adding that Coderre and his co-workers thought the apartment was on fire and ran upstairs to alert the tenant, who wasn’t home.

When SKFR crews arrived, Waterman said the firefighters “looked everywhere, but couldn’t find the source of the flames until they began feeling the wall with their hands for the heat source.”

Waterman said the fire was then extinguished, and other than repairing some gashes in the front wall and cleaning up drywall dust, his business largely escaped damage.

“I am counting my blessings,” he said. “If it had happened 90 minutes later, my staff wouldn’t have been there. And with the (upstairs) tenant gone, there would have been no one else around to notice the smoke. The whole place could have been engulfed in flames by the time anyone noticed.”

Waterman said he finds it suspicious that a cigarette butt managed to slide through the “very teeny gap” between the front of the business and the sidewalk, although he could not think of why anyone would have done it purposely.

“Someone would have had to have just thrown their lit cigarette on the ground,” he said, adding that the ash can is still in front of his business. “We’ve had a bench and a cigarette can out there for 14 years.”

SKFR Chief Wayne Senter said the fire being caught in time was “a huge save.”

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