Businesses go up in flames: 'It was like Wenatchee was on fire'

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Much of downtown Wenatchee was closed Monday night, hours after fire consumed several businesses and toxic chemicals were released into the air.

Flames lit up the sky as fire swept through a row of warehouses, including the Bluebird Fruit plant.

Down the street, employees at the Denny's in downtown Wenatchee were in the midst of the morning rush hour.

The manager, Brian Predmore, said, "I had a completely packed, full restaurant, people waiting in the entry way. I said, I'm sorry, we talked to the police and made the decision we're going to close."

Predmore and the owner of the Denny's, Irene Modahl, had been watching the fire since Sunday night -- worried about huge burning embers landing nearby.

"Big cinders were flying from the fire over there. It was very scary," Modahl said.

Predmore tried to water down the roof to prevent the restaurant from burning, but was told by police that it wasn't safe to stay outside.

Police warned everyone to stay inside and close their windows because of an ammonia leak from the fire at the Bluebird Fruit plant. Its fumes carried through town in the thick black smoke.

Denny's and several other businesses in downtown Wentachee were forced to close for the day.

Even though the ammonia dissipated after a few hours, Modahl said it will take more time for  Wenatchee to recover from this fire.

"Scary and sad. But I count my blessings that we didn't lose anything. Business, well, that's the way it goes," she said.

It was a frightening 24 hours for Modahl. She had been evacuated from her home because of the fire on the other side of town.

"Basically, it went very quickly, very quickly, all around us. It was like Wenatchee was on fire," Modahl said.

Some businesses were being asked Monday night to conserve water as much as possible, because all of the resources are needed to continue fighting this stubborn fire.