Fire guts old Alpine Cold Storage building

A historic building in Tacoma’s warehouse district was gutted by a lengthy two-alarm blaze Wednesday morning.

Firefighters arrived at the old Alpine Cold Storage warehouse – at the corner of South 25th St. and South Jefferson Ave. – shortly after receiving a call just before 10 a.m.

The building had been vacant for several years and was being renovated. Several workers inside at the time of the fire escaped uninjured.

Thick, white smoke initially billowed from the 56,560-square-foot building, eventually turning dark brown as the fire raged on. Smoke from the fire was visible for miles, including from Interstate 5. Flames could be seen streaming from the roof of the 102-year-old building.

More than 50 firefighters were on the scene – with 16 engine companies, eight engines and four ladder trucks – to battle the stubborn blaze.

Firefighters fought the fire in a defensive approach, meaning they battled the fire from the outside. Perched atop three ladders, firefighters doused the building with torrents of water.

Though an official cause of the fire has yet to be determined, firefighters suspect sparks from a power tool used to cut metal plates may have ignited material. Officials who had inspected the building recently said the walls were insulated with sawdust, which was used at the turn of the last century in cold storage buildings and is highly flammable.

Ducki and Kwi Hahn of Seattle are the owners of the building. They purchased it in May, for $400,000, from John Ritchie, also of Seattle. City officials said the building owners did not have a permit for the renovations.

The plumes of smoke rising from the building drew several people to street corners near the building. “We saw it from the freeway,” said an unidentified man, who along with his wife and young son, decided to drive to the scene to get a closer look. An older gentleman discussed the possibility of the building collapsing with a young woman standing next to him.

Several helicopters from local news organizations circled overhead, providing live television coverage of the burning building.

Fearing falling debris, police and fire officials kept bystanders at a distance from the attention-getting disaster. A few times, police and fire officials ordered people to move back.

Some people fled nearby businesses, but there was no evacuation, said city spokeswoman Chris Gleason. Several neighboring streets were closed as a precaution.

Power was cut for several hours to about 2,000 customers around the fire, mostly businesses. Traffic flowed relatively smoothly on Pacific Avenue, even though traffic lights and crosswalk signals at the nearby Interstate 705 interchange weren’t functioning. All power was restored by 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, Gleason reported.

Fire destroyed the warehouse’s roof and wooden interior. “It’s still burning,” Gleason said this morning, adding the fire department’s presence has been reduced to two engines and two ladders.

Surrounding streets remained closed, she said, as a safety precaution. A structural engineer will examine the building in the next day or two, Gleason said, when the fire is completely put out.

The Alpine Cold Storage building that burned Wednesday was part of a complex of buildings once owned by the Pacific Brewing and Malting Co. The complex, comprised of 13 closely-grouped factory structures mostly erected between 1900 and 1913, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as vacant/not in use. Architect C.A. Darmer constructed the Alpine building in phases, with the first section – a brewhouse – built in 1901. The Pacific and Brewing Co. added stockhouses at both ends of the building in 1903 and 1911. Few people recall the brewery operation, because soap – rather than beer – was manufactured on the site for so long.