Search begins for new homes

EVERETT — Allen Thornhill stood outside the Strand Hotel on Thursday morning clutching an acoustic guitar, the only thing he has left to hold on to.

Virtually everything else he owns is gone, destroyed in a three-alarm fire that damaged a downtown building that’s been a fixture on Colby since 1915.

“I lost everything,” he said. “But I don’t care because it’s all material.”

None of his neighbors were hurt, at least in part because Thornhill and neighbor Bill Werner ran up and down the hallways of the apartment building pounding on doors and yelling for people to get out.

Fire officials determined an unattended candle sparked the fire Wednesday morning.

The blaze displaced more than two dozen people who live in apartments on the upper floors of the three-story building.

A barbershop and boutique on the ground level were largely unscathed. Still, even a few days of no customers makes life difficult for business owners during a tough economic time.

Everett Comics lost thousands of comics when a deluge of water came through the ceiling and swept across the shop.

The rarer comics escaped damage, owner Charlie Knoedler said. He hopes to find a temporary location so he can get back to business as quickly as possible.

“We’ll be back,” he said.

The fire gutted several of the apartments on the top stories of the building. Others sustained smoke and water damage.

It’s not clear how long it will take to get the building repaired.

Thursday morning the people who called the Strand Hotel home were trying to figure out where they would live. Some of them stood outside the building waiting to get a look at what remained of their belongings.

When the manager arrived, they wanted to know if they would get their rent checks returned. Residents said they were told that the building’s owners needed to check with the insurance company before returning this month’s rent.

Several people who lived at the Strand said that without that money back, they’ll likely be homeless.

“So what are we supposed to do?” one woman asked the manager.

“That’s a good question,” answered the general manager, Les Lee. “For now, find some place to live.”

The woman sat down on the side of the building, put her head in her hands and began to quietly sob.

Later, the owner promised tenants that their rent for October would be returned.

Lee said by phone that he lived in one of the apartments and also lost many of his things. He said he told residents about other opportunities that might be available with area landlords. The Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross has also set up an emergency shelter at a local church.

Bill Werner, a resident, said the Strand was an affordable place to live for people with limited incomes.

Many of the people in the building did not have renter’s insurance, he said.

Thornhill’s apartment sustained some of the worst damage. He was up early the morning of the fire when he smelled smoke. His nose led him to his bathroom, where he found smoke coming up from the unit below.

He and many of his neighbors spent the better part of Wednesday standing outside, watching firefighters put out the blaze. When it was safe to go back inside, he found that his apartment looked like “a Sherman tank drove through it.”

Thornhill, a musician, finds glimmers of good where he can. One of the firefighters battling the blaze took a moment to pick up his guitar, move it onto his bed and cover it — a decision that saved it.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or

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