Fire-damaged waterfront businesses seek new digs

ASTORIA — Astoria city organizations are seeking temporary housing for several waterfront businesses after an office building was damaged in a fire last week.

The fire caused an estimated $5 million to $6 million in damage.

The Daily Astorian reports police have allowed a property manager to enter a building that houses 26 stores and was damaged in the fire, but a cafe has not yet been cleared for entry.

Business owners, ranging from therapists to lawyers, must wait for city approval for a safety plan before they can salvage anything from their offices.

Sari Hartman, formerly of the fire-damaged Salon Verve, relocated to the former Astoria beauty school where she started her career. She said she'll try to remake the 1,600 square-foot location into a salon by Jan. 11.

Hartman said she wants "to make something good come out of something so horrific by moving forward."

The city of Astoria and the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association have been seeking office spaces, supplies and furniture while trying to get affected businesses and their owners back on their feet quickly.

Astoria assistant police chief Alan Oja said private investigators were looking into fault and liability issues related to the fire. Authorities say the fires appear to be accidental, possibly caused by wiring issues.

The buildings were scheduled to be sold after a Dec. 30 foreclosure hearing. Lake Oswego developer Eric Jacobsen had moved to recoup more than $840,000 in debt owed by the real estate companies that own the building.

The situation, along with initial reports that the fires were started separately, initially raised suspicions among investigators. But Astoria Fire Chief Lenard Hansen has said that physical evidence has shown the fires were likely connected, and that they began accidentally.

Among the fire's business casualties was Cannery Cafe, which was housed in the site of the former Bumble Bee cannery. The company shut down its Astoria operations in 1980.

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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