FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. - Friday Harbor residents say they were devastated to learn that the fire that destroyed a historic block of buildings last week was the work of an arsonist.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) officials said the fire was set with an accelerant on the back deck of a building where Crystal Seas Kayaking was located.
"Probably a bit of shock, trying to deal with it," said Johannes Krieger, Crystal Seas Kayaking Owner. "I’d say the hard part is still in front of us."
At this time of year, Johannes says he and his wife would be prepping the gift shop and gearing up for the summer.
"A lot of training would be happening now, getting the store ready, getting everything situated for the season," he said.
Instead, the gift shop and office have been reduced to rubble. Some merchandise still sits in the front window of the shop, visibly charred by last week’s fire. Johannes started the business back in 1993 when he was just a young man, and the loss hits hard.
"Started it when I was 19 years old, and from there, grew it with the help of lots of great employees," he said.
"Law enforcement has good leads and they are following up on those," said Fire Chief Norvin Collins of San Juan Island Fire & Rescue.
Norvin says the investigation has progressed quickly.
"The dog was able to find a couple hits on flammable liquids that were found on the back deck that you saw where the report of the origin was," he said. "By fire dynamics, fire behavior and the arson dog, we’ll find out exactly what the accelerant was once it comes back from the labs in Washington DC."
Johannes says investigators have told him that they believe his business wasn’t targeted purposely. For that, he is relieved. "You just hope for…that they are not going to be able to continue this in the future," said Johannes.
Friday Harbor residents hope the person responsible is brought to justice.
"It’s sad," said Lee Yenter of Henry Island. "It’s just sad for the owners are going to lose out on a lot of summer tourist trade and this is hard on everybody."
"The plan is here to clear the site and start moving forward, and hopefully if we are lucky and get everything together and have a building maybe next year," said Johannes.
Meantime, Johannes says Crystal Seas Kayaking is still booking whale watching and kayaking tours online.
"We are still very much open and running our tours daily right now, and we are looking forward to a very good summer," said Johannes.
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