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Boats, building destroyed by predawn blaze Sunday at Jensen's Shipyard
About a half-dozen boats were completely destroyed or heavily damaged Sunday as a predawn blaze leveled a building where vintage wooden boats were painstakingly restored at Jensen Shipyard on San Juan Island.
San Juan Island Fire Department's Chief Steve Marler said the 1,500 square-foot building, which stood about 20 feet tall, had collapsed by the time the first of three fire engines -- two from the San Juan department and one from Friday Harbor -- arrived on scene at about 4:50 a.m.
The fire, Marler said, had time enough to get a good grip on the heavy-timber framing and wooden boats inside the building before firefighters were first paged at about 4:35 a.m.
That's often the case at the time of day, he added.
"It had a chance to get a really good head start," Marler said. "The sad part about this fire is all the history and the amount of effort that went into restoring those boats. A couple were burned literally in half."
No injuries were reported and Marler said that the building appears to have been unoccupied at the time of the fire.
The fire remains under investigation but the cause, Marler noted, may remain a mystery given the "laundry list" of flammable materials, mostly used in boat renovation work, that were inside the shop.
"We'll spend some time (Monday) talking with tenants and people who work there, and we should have a better idea then about who was there last and what was going on," he said. "Right now, there's nothing suspicious jumping out and it has all the earmarks of a tragic fire at this point."
The building has been leased for the past four years by Art Lohrey, according to Mike Ahrenius of Jensen's Shipyard. Lohrey, a locally-acclaimed wooden boat restorer, was in California at the time of the fire and has been in contact with local authorities, Marler said.
The amount of damage has yet to be determined. Ahrenius said it appears that restoration, at least for some of the boats damaged by the blaze, is no longer an option.
"That's one thing about fire, it's pretty permanent," he said. "It's a huge loss for Art."