Piles of ash littered the gutter along 16th Avenue Southwest in White Center on Wednesday — a reminder of the fire that raged through several establishments along the community’s core retail strip two days earlier. Red inspection placards taped to the doors declared the businesses unsafe to enter and occupy. The window of Rat City Tat2 revealed stools haphazardly strewn inside, under a collapsed ceiling with an exposed wooden frame. The odor of smoke permeated the area.
As affected business owners mourn the loss of the seven establishments, the community has offered financial and emotional aid. Virtual fundraisers have garnered widespread help for the damaged businesses, which include Rat City Tat2, Nuggi Boba Cafe, John’s Hair and Nails Beauty Salon, the Lumber Yard Bar, La Típica Oaxaqueña, The Boxing Gym Westside, and Dottie’s Double Wide bar. In-person community events to support the businesses, most of which are owned by people of color, are also planned over the next week.
Though the fire took place over the July 4 holiday weekend, detectives from the King County Fire Investigation Unit conducted an investigation on Monday and found no fireworks at the scene. “Every indicator at this point is that it was an accidental fire,” King County Sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Tim Meyer said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Lumber Yard Bar co-owner Michale Farrar stood in the doorway of his establishment’s basement, which flooded but was spared from the fire. A generator outside hummed as it provided power to a light that illuminated the intact space. Farrar’s hands were covered in ash.
Despite the damage to his bar, Farrar was hopeful for the future. He and his husband, Nathan Adams, plan to rebuild in White Center. “We weren’t just a bar, we were a community center,” Farrar said. He and Adams owned Lumber Yard, the neighborhood’s first LGBTQ bar, for over three years. “We’ve been a stronghold for the LGBTQ community, and I just wouldn’t want to take that away from here.”
The fire was likely related to a mechanical failure, Farrar believes. A power outage throughout the day Sunday ended a few hours before the fire and may have led to a power surge, he said. The bar was closed the day before the fire due to the outage.
When Magali Reyes received a phone call that her aunt’s grocery store, La Típica Oaxaqueña, was on fire early Monday morning, she and her cousins headed there at 4:30 a.m. When she arrived, the door was open and the space was falling apart from the inside.
“Without thinking, I went straight into the store, as it was still on fire,” Reyes said.
As Reyes stood in the middle of the store for a couple of minutes, smoke obscured her view and she could barely breathe. She was in disbelief.
“Everything that my aunt worked through was gone,” Reyes said. A fireman soon ordered her to leave so they could continue extinguishing the fire.
She returned Tuesday, to be told by a King County inspector that she had an hour to remove anything salvageable. Without skipping a beat, neighboring business owners and community members removed shelves, refrigerators, clay pots, and a refrigerator-worth of food. Reyes estimates that they were able to clear out 90% of the items that hadn’t been damaged in the fire.
“I was kind of overwhelmed,” she said. “Everybody was just helping us. They weren’t even looking at what they were taking out, they were just taking out what they could as fast as they could.”
Reyes’ family hopes to reopen the store in White Center, but are taking it day by day, she said. They are going to sell the salvaged merchandise at Lake Burien Presbyterian Church’s north parking lot from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, as part of the one-year celebration for a local food drive, Alimentando al Pueblo.
By Wednesday afternoon, the store’s GoFundMe had raised over $7,800 of its $50,000 goal.
As he prepared his coffee Monday morning, Lee Torres, owner of The Boxing Gym Westside, learned that his business was involved in the fire through a text message from a nearby shop owner. His mind raced as he headed to the gym: “Does that mean that a wall burned down, or that my business is in ashes?” said Torres, who found his business burned down. “I felt a little gutted when I first laid eyes on the scene.”
Torres’ business had experienced challenges before. Six years ago, the gym started outside on a running track until Torres found a space in White Center. As the business grew, Torres rented out three different spaces on the block, each larger than the next, all of which burned down in the fire. Then the pandemic hit, and most of the gym’s training moved online. He and the coaches are considering temporary spaces while they recover.
“We want to rebuild in White Center because the neighborhood knows who it is. It’s diverse and it’s gritty. White Center is home,” Torres said.
Seattle Times photographer Ken Lambert contributed to this report.