Astoria officials call fires 'suspicious'

ASTORIA — Firefighters are suspicious about the origins of flames that ripped through the site of a longtime seafood cannery in Astoria, a city spokesman said Friday.

The fire late Thursday destroyed a cafe and office building once part of the Bumble Bee cannery. The company shut down its Astoria operations in 1980.

Fire officials said they were fighting one fire in the cafe when a second broke out in the next-door building that has been converted to office and commercial use.

Suspicions that the blazes had been set were first reported by The Daily Astorian newspaper.

City spokesman Brett Estes said firefighters weren't saying what caused their suspicions and the investigation is just beginning — one building may be too hot for local and state fire investigators until Saturday.

"At this point it is suspicious in nature," Estes said.

The Daily Astorian reported that the properties were scheduled for a foreclosure sale Dec. 30 after Lake Oswego developer Eric Jacobsen had moved to recoup more than $840,000 in debt owed by the real estate companies of Chester Trabucco.

Trabucco told the Oregonian newspaper that the blaze started in the floorboards of the men's bathroom in the cafe.

"That's right in the area where there is a grease trap," he told the paper. "We're assuming that is a culprit as much as anything."

Trabucco said the building was mostly wood, insulated with sawdust.

Both structures are on a dock, which firefighters saved.

Astoria is at the mouth of the Columbia River. In the 19th and 20th centuries, more than 30 canneries were arrayed along the lower reaches of the river, packing salmon and tuna. Overfishing pushed the industry into severe decline in the last half of the 20th century.

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