Shirley's Tippy Canoe destroyed in Friday morning blaze
NOTE: This story was amended to clarify the number of fire hydrants in Corbett Fire District 14.
When Ed Hill, an employee at Glen Irwin Market in Springdale, heard from a customer Friday morning that Shirley's Tippy Canoe Restaurant was on fire, his heart sank.
"I was sick. I just couldn't believe it," he said of the popular gathering place just a couple miles down Historic Columbia River Highway. "It was the last thing I expected to hear. It's a landmark around here."
That sentiment was shared by dozens in the Troutdale-Springdale-Corbett community when it became apparent that the blaze destroyed the two story wood-framed building. The fire reportedly broke out in or near its second floor office sometime before 5 a.m. Friday, Jan. 17.
The Corbett Fire District 14 station got the call about Shirley's Tippy Canoe, 28242 Historic Columbia River Highway, at 5:03 a.m., Corbett Fire Chief Dave Flood told The Outlook.
"It took us about eight minutes to get there," Flood said around 10:15 a.m. Friday. "The (Multnomah County) Sheriff's Office called for us after they saw flames."
No one was found on the premises when Corbett crews arrived and were soon augmented by Gresham Fire & Emergency Services. No injuries were reported.
"When we sized it up, the second floor was on fire," Flood said of the former apartment more recently used as a restaurant office. "We looked to see if there was anyone to rescue.
"The second floor was fully engulfed and the first floor heavily charged with smoke," Flood added. "Crews were in there about five minutes and determined the floor-ceiling (supports) were not stable."
Four engines, three from Corbett and one ladder truck from Gresham Fire, responded along with three water tenders, including one supplied by Clackamas County Fire District.
ODOT crews closed Historic Columbia River Highway between Southeast Woodard Road and Stark Street from early Friday morning until around 11 a.m., restricting it to residential traffic only.
Flood said there are about 75 hydrants in District 14, including one about 50 feet from the Tippy Canoe.
"It's not one of our better hydrants. It puts out about 200 gallons a minute, and we were using probably 750 gallons a minute at our peak here," he told KOIN-6 News, an Outlook media partner. "That means we have to use our water tenders to go get water and shuttle it back. Luckily, that's something we do fairly frequently and practice all the time. So that part is not a problem for us."
Some aspects of the building's construction created problems for firefighters, particularly metal roofing that also formed the interior ceiling. The material was added when the building underwent extensive renovations in 2007 after current owner Shirley Welton purchased it.
"Metal roofing on the roof AND the ceiling makes it difficult to get water in there," Flood told The Outlook.
By about 9:30 a.m., most of the fire had been extinguished, but the second floor of the building had collapsed into the first. Three of the four walls with a decorative brick-and-wood panel design remained standing, but most of the wall facing Historic Columbia River Highway had collapsed.
There was no obvious cause for the blaze, Flood noted, adding Gresham Fire officials launched a routine investigation late Friday morning.
"It's a total loss," Flood said of the 1946-vintage structure, whose value the Gresham Maps website lists as $492,840.
Shirley Welton, who bought the Tippy in 2006 and invested $600,000 to transform the bedraggled roadhouse tavern to a stylishly rustic restaurant-and-lounge complete with a marble-furniture patio, said she heard about the fire while watching TV news.
"All of a sudden they said the Columbia River Highway was closed and I thought, 'Gee, it was a problem with a building,'" she told KOIN-6 News. "I was getting ready to get my coat on and it said the Tippy Canoe. I couldn't believe it — just couldn't believe it. But I didn't expect it to be massive."
"Oh, thank God nobody was hurt," Welton added.
Welton has insurance but said she's "not too sure what's going to happen."
"We just had fun since 2007," she told KOIN. "I want to thank (the customers) for everything. I mean, without the customers and the kind that I have, they've just been wonderful people. They're more than customers. They're almost like families."
That family extended to Tippy Canoe employees.
"My people are waitresses or servers. They are part of the family, you know. Everybody can get angry with each other, you can smile with each other, you can love each other, but they're human beings, and it's really nice."
Welton has a long history in the dining and hospitality business. She and a former husband opened Sam's Hollywood Billiards in Northeast Portland in 1964. Eighteen years later, she trekked to Newport and Lincoln City, were she operated four eateries and a catering service for 35 years.
By 2013, word of the renovated Tippy had spread beyond the Portland area, and the eatery was featured in an episode of "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" with celebrity foodie Guy Fieri.
Now 82, Welton said her "kids are thinking about retiring me. So, I'm not too sure. It's probably time."
Troutdale leaders and locals expressed their shock and sadness upon hearing that fire had destroyed the iconic gathering place commonly just called "The Tippy."
"The loss of Tippy Canoe to the Troutdale and East County community is devastating," said Troutdale Mayor Casey Ryan. "It has been an icon for travelers and residents who travel the Historic Columbia River Highway for decades. Today is sad day."
Geoff Kenway, president of West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce, shared similar sentiments.
"Tippy Canoe has always been a place where people celebrate and enjoy the Sandy River atmosphere," he said. "The uniqueness and family style will be so missed. A sad day for Tippy Canoe and the Troutdale community."
Ali Peret, who in 1990 opened Ali Peret Designs in downtown Troutdale, recalled visiting the Tippy as well as the former Shirley's Cafe, which Welton operated near his business for years. Peret credits Welton with resurrecting a watering hole that, by 2006, had seen better days.
"She did an amazing thing with that building," he said of The Tippy. "I had been in there when it was a tavern and came back when it reopened. I was like, 'Gosh, this is really beautiful.'"
Friday's news threw Peret for a loop.
"I'm just in disbelief," he said. "I couldn't imagine that restaurant would go up in a fire to that extent. It was a shock."
A few doors down, Terry Smoke, owner of Troutdale General Store, said once the fire hit TV news, "everyone was texting me. My phone lit up like a Christmas tree this morning. First thing this morning, the (store) was packed with everyone wanting to know what happened.
"A lot of us are pretty devastated by the news," added Smoke, who grew up in Sandy and moved to Troutdale in the mid-1980s. "It's a cornerstone of the community. It's been part of Troutdale for a long time. We're all sad. It's a total loss for the community."
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