Investigators dig into fire that devastated Shirley's Tippy Canoe
A fire that destroyed Shirley's Tippy Canoe restaurant and lounge near Troutdale early Friday morning, Jan. 17, likely started in the second-floor office/storage area — and was possibly preceded by an activated burglar alarm — but the cause remains under investigation.
"Right now we're pretty sure it started on the second floor," said Duston Yacapin, deputy fire marshal investigator with Gresham Fire & Emergency Services. "It burned hot and everything quickly fell through to the first floor."
The resulting mass of charred wood and rubble from the wood-framed 1940s building makes finding relevant clues to the fire's origin a tedious task.
"It's difficult because of the age of the building and the construction type," Yacapin noted. "How fast it burned was a big one. There's a lot of wood and its older construction. The upstairs collapsed pretty quickly."
Investigators with Gresham Fire, Corbett Fire District 14 and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office worked through the weekend at the remains of Tippy Canoe, 28242 Historic Columbia River Highway.
The fire that consumed the legendary eatery and watering hole along the Sandy River started sometime before 5:03 a.m. Friday, Jan. 17. An MCSO deputy saw flames in the upstairs windows and notified the Corbett Fire District 14 station, about four miles east of the restaurant.
Yacapin noted that the Tippy Canoe's burglar alarm was activated likely between 3:45 and 4 a.m., alerting the sheriff's office, which sent a deputy with a K9 unit to the business.
"(The deputy) drove by slowly and didn't see anybody there or anything suspicious," Yacapin said, adding the MCSO K9 unit was then re-routed to another, unrelated call. "Then (another) deputy called in around 5 a.m. reporting fire in the windows."
No one was on the premises when District 14 crews arrived on scene, but the rapidly spreading blaze consumed the building before Corbett and Gresham crews could bring it under control.
No injuries were reported.
MCSO spokesman Chris Liedle declined to comment on the burglar alarm activation or response timeline.
"I met with detectives this morning," he said on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 21, noting the sheriff's office is the lead investigator of the case, with support from a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent. "Unfortunately at this time, we cannot comment further. It is an active and open investigation."
Yacapin stressed that a number of things could have triggered the motion-detected burglar alarm, including a curtain blown by an HVAC unit kicking on, or a glitch in the alarm system.
"There are a lot of moving parts in this," he said of the case, adding the Gresham Fire office has received a high volume of calls and voicemail messages since the fire. "A lot of unknowns."
Aspects of the building's construction created problems for firefighters last Friday, particularly the copper-colored metal roofing whose material also formed the interior ceiling. The material was added when current owner Shirley Welton purchased and extensively renovated the long-running roadhouse in 2007.
"Metal roofing on the roof and the ceiling makes it difficult to get water in there," District 14 Fire Chief Dave Flood said on Jan. 17.
By about 9:30 a.m., most of the fire was extinguished, but the second floor had collapsed into the first. Three of the four walls with a brick-and-wood panel design remained standing, but most of the wall facing Historic Columbia River Highway had caved in.
Gresham Fire's Yacapin said Shirley Welton was assisting investigators — including agents from her insurance company — at the restaurant site over the weekend. Welton helped create maps of what the second floor looked like and answered questions about appliances that may have been there.
"It was an apartment at one time," Yacapin said, but most recently was used as an office and storage area for the Tippy's popular bar/lounge. "Shirley was using it as an office and for storage (including) decorations for seasons, and also alcohol overstock. It was primarily an office."
Yacapin said Welton was understandably eager to know what may have caused the devastating blaze.
"She asked me, 'Do you have anything? Do you know anything?'" he said. "Unfortunately, we don't … I don't like undetermined fires. I like to know what caused 'em. I don't like not being able to figure it out. It just doesn't always work that way."
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