A King County investigator believes the fire was set near a cash machine to cover the theft of $3,300, KIRO-TV reported.
A firefighter who suffered a hand burn and smoke inhalation at the blaze was reported in satisfactory condition at a Seattle hospital.
Responding firefighters were immediately suspicious when they found the door open, said Skykomish fire Capt. Mike Janasz. A suspicious car was also reported leaving the scene.
Flames spread quickly through the wood frame building that was built in 1903. Firefighters could only pour on water from the outside as they watched the roof and second floor collapse.
All that remains is part of the frontier-style facade that says “established in 1903.”
News that the fire may have been started by a burglar incensed owner Charlie Brown, who said historic photos and artifacts were lost.
“It's an idiotic thing to do,” he told KOMO. “I mean, take the money and run. We can replace that, but we can't replace some of the history in this building.”
The tavern was a community center for the town and a stopping place for food for Stevens Pass skiers, about 40 miles east of Everett on U.S. 2. A residence is attached to back of the tavern, but no one was inside when the fire started, KING reported.
Several fire agencies worked to prevent flames from spreading to an adjacent hotel and other buildings.
The Whistling Post Tavern was one of 11 landmark buildings along the four-block long Skykomish Historic Commercial District, dating back to the late 1800s. Railroad workers would hang out in the saloon, which was originally named The Olympian. It was renamed the Whistling Post Tavern after a fire destroyed most of the district in 1904.
“It's a pretty heavy hit,” Skykomish resident John Ritchie told KING. “There's only a few businesses in Skykomish and this is one of those that everybody gravitated to. The owners are real nice people. It was just a great, fun place to be.”
The owners said they will likely rebuild the tavern, but the lost railroad memorabilia and historic photos are irreplaceable.
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