Sunday, November 24, 2013/lk
OMAK A fire Wednesday morning at the Elks Lodge destroyed an electrical room and has forced the non-profit organization to shut down operations until repairs can be made.
“This could not be happening at a worse time of the year,” Exalted Ruler Sandy Smith said.
The Elks Lodge, 110 S. Ash St., is typically one of the more popular holiday banquet and party locations in the area. Several events will be forced to relocate this year.
Smith said he’s not sure how long the damage will keep the lodge closed, but he expects it will not be ready until after the holiday banquet season. He said an estimate on the damage was not yet available.
Smith said the winter is the non-profit group’s biggest money-making part of the year. The building has played host to as many as three banquets or parties in a single night, he said.
The Okanogan County Cattlemen’s Association had planned its annual dinner and auction for Dec. 7 at the Elks Lodge. That event, as well as dozens of others, will have to be rescheduled.
The eighth annual Jammin’ Against Hunger had originally been scheduled for Nov. 30 at the lodge, but has now been moved to the Courtyard Downtown, 28 N. Main St.
The building is owned by the Elks Grand Lodge, not the local Elks club, Smith said. The building is insured, and had a $1,000 deductible.
“It’s a damn shame,” Smith said. “It’s heartbreaking, really. I’m just hoping the insurance will pay for the loss of income.”
Firefighters were called to the location at 4:39 a.m. Wednesday, Fire Chief Kevin Bowling said.
About 20 firefighters were on scene, with Omak being assisted by the Okanogan Fire Department.
“Upon our arrival, the electrical room on the south was fully involved,” Bowling said. “We were able to make a quick knockdown on that and keep the fire contained.”
The electrical supply room that houses the building’s circuit breakers was completely destroyed, as was an outside staircase that had been completed two days earlier.
The fire did spread to the food service elevator and cause some interior damage in the main building.
There were no injuries.
The cause is still under investigation, Bowling said.
The building also suffered smoke and water damage throughout the south portion of the building.
However, the damage could have been much worse, Elks member Ken McIntyre said.
McIntyre said the cinder block and sheet metal that surround much of the building’s exterior, along with the wind blowing to the south, kept the blaze from spreading too much to the rest of the lodge or next door to the Breadline Café.
“It’s just sad,” McIntyre said.
Bowling said no other buildings were threatened.
The Elks Lodge has security cameras, but they were all located on the interior of the building.
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s fire, Smith said he plans to install exterior cameras in the future.
Ash Street and nearby streets near the lodge were temporarily close to traffic.
Elks members and other community members spent Wednesday salvaging what they could and securing the building.
The fire creates an uncertain future for the Elks Lodge, which had gone through financial struggles earlier in the year.
In a March story in The Chronicle, former Exalted Ruler Marilynn Taylor said the group had 240 members, but only about 40 were active in contributing and volunteering.
Four years ago, the group tried to sell the building, and that remains an option, she said.
The lodge is on three levels, with no elevator. It includes a kitchen, bar, dance floor, large and small meeting rooms, outdoor area and parking lot.
“The building is so big, for the membership we have,” Taylor said in March. “There’s a huge overhead.”
The fire wasn’t the only problem to befall the lodge recently.
On Oct. 4, a burglar broke into the club and stole an undisclosed amount of cash, a $6,000 cash register and damaged two doors. It was the Elks’ third break-in in the past seven years. A benefit dinner was put on to help defray the cost of the insurance deductible.
The Elks Lodge was first built in 1948, but had to be renovated when a Jan. 1, 1971, fire gutted much of the building.
That fire required firefighters from Malott, Tonasket, Oroville and Okanogan to assist the Omak Fire Department.
It was caused by an electrical malfunction in the area between the roof and ceiling of the central meeting room, causing significant damage to the rear portion, as well as the front part of the lodge that had been part of an $80,000 expansion three years prior.