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Fire damages Olalla Bay Market & Landing

Posted on August 16th, 2022 By:

A landmark Olalla market, nearing its reopening after a year of renovation, burned early Tuesday morning.

The entrance to Olalla Bay Market is blocked while the fire marshal’s office investigates the fire.

South Kitsap Fire & Rescue crews were dispatched to what became a two-alarm fire at Olalla Bay Market and Landing at 2:17 a.m. It was deemed under control at 3 a.m., and all units cleared by 4:50 a.m., according to the department.

Author and longtime Olalla resident Gregg Olsen and wife Claudia purchased the closed waterfront store in February 2021 and began remodeling it.

An adjacent building, The Landing, opened in July as a community meeting space and mini museum. That building, which for many years had housed the local post office, was not damaged in the fire. Olsen said then that he hoped to open the store in the fall.

Owners were among first on scene

Olsen, who lives up the street, was awakened by his security system, which had alerted 911 first. He and Claudia reached the store about 15 minutes after the dispatch went out.

“There were already a few fire trucks on the scene, so we’re very grateful for the quick response,” he said.

South Kitsap firefighters were later joined by others from Central Kitsap, Bremerton and Navy Region Northwest departments.

The Olsens arrived to see black smoke gushing out of the front picture windows, which had shattered from the heat. Chainsaws were cutting a rectangle in the new roof.

“That let out a ton of smoke,” Gregg Olsen said of the roof hole. “It probably saved the building from a backdraft situation.”

Fire marshal investigating cause

The fire appears to have started in the back of the store, where the commercial kitchen is located. Nothing was plugged in. Kitsap County Fire Marshal’s office investigators were the only people on site at midday Tuesday and were expected to determine the cause within a day or two, Olsen said.

The market’s exterior appears intact, but the inside was heavily damaged.

“When you go inside the market now and look at it, it’s black in there but it’s all mostly smoke,” Olsen described. “The air conditioning units melted from the heat, dripping from the wall like wax. All of the surfaces are going to have to be redone.”

It wasn’t all bad news. Never-before-seen 68-year-old trusses that the Olsens were excited to expose as part of the renovation were blackened but not damaged beyond repair. Old-growth wood from an Olalla Valley Road barn that was featured as wainscotting throughout the store can be saved.

“That’s meaningful to our community,” Olsen said.

No insurance on building, but a generous community surrounds it

The market building, because it was unoccupied, wasn’t insured, Olsen said. But the family won’t be recovering alone.

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A GoFundMe account was established within a few hours. Scores of neighbors voiced support online and volunteered their help. Olsen was emotionally overcome by the outpouring, to the point of being unable to talk about it.

Earlier in a TV interview at the scene, he thanked the community for its support throughout the renovation and in the fire’s wake.

“It’s not just me and my family, our community has worked so hard and we’ve had so many volunteers and help,” he said.

Olalla Vineyard and Winery owners Stuart Chisholm and Mary Ellen Houston set up the GoFundMe account. They’re good friends brought closer by the shared tribulations of running a small business.

“When we heard about it this morning, it was absolutely devastating,” said Houston. “All along Gregg has included everybody in the community in getting this place up and going because it’s so near and dear to everyone’s heart. Everybody knew it from Al’s butcher shop way back in the ‘70s, and it’s the only building left standing down on the water.

“Our message to Gregg directly was if there’s anything we can do besides the GoFundMe, please let us know. Knowing Olalla people, we will all rally around him and get it open again. It’s just one giant community and it’s so amazing to see people come together like this.”

Firefighters work outside the Olalla Bay Market & Landing early Tuesday.