Sunday, July 18, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Burned Spokane Business Didn't Have Sprinklers

The AP

SPOKANE - A shuttered business that once was among Spokane's hottest nightspots did not have working sprinklers when it was destroyed by fire, a contractor said yesterday.

The sprinklers at the Mars Hotel, a bankrupt nightclub and casino, were knocked out of commission by freezing temperatures in December, said Jerry Morrison, whose company is helping demolish the three ruined buildings on the downtown block.

"The pipes froze and broke in December because the electricity was shut off," Morrison said.

Firefighters continued pouring water on the smoldering buildings yesterday morning. A crane also started demolishing the burned hulk of the hotel, to prevent it from collapsing.

Fire investigators continued searching for the starting point of the Friday morning blaze, and the cause, said Battalion Chief Al Green.

"We're not going to speculate on anything," Green said.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also was investigating and hoped to pin down the starting point of the fire by Wednesday, said Brad Farnsworth, head of the BATF Spokane office. The damaged building must be made safe before they can be searched, he said.

"We want to finish the search of the structure to see if there are any fatalities," Farnsworth said. No deaths or serious injuries have been tied to the fire.

It remained unclear if the Mars Hotel had any fire insurance, Farnsworth said.

Some of the 108 people left homeless by the fire gathered behind yellow police tape yesterday to watch the demolition. So did employees of some displaced businesses.

Robert Mendenhall, owner of an insurance business in an adjacent building, said his office was flooded by several inches of water from firefighting efforts.

"I've got a bunch of water damage," he said, and has been unable to see if his computer files survived the water.

Most of the homeless lived in the six-story Fairmont Apartments, which was heavily damaged. Morrison said every room in the hotel had smoke detectors or heat sensors.

The three-alarm fire broke out just after 5 a.m. Friday in a vacant three-story brick building. It rapidly spread to the buildings on either side - the Fairmont and the unoccupied five-story Arlington Hotel, which housed the Mars.

Two other adjacent buildings - a furniture store and a beauty school - sustained smoke and water damage.

Both hotels were built in 1910, and have had numerous owners.

Businessman Rob Saucier bought the Arlington in 1992 and renamed it the Mars Hotel, after a Grateful Dead album.

The Mars Casino, among the state's first non-Indian gambling operations, was forced into a Chapter 7 liquidation and closed in November. The U.S. Trustee Office said the company was $3.2 million in debt when the casino's parent corporation filed for bankruptcy protection.

The building had about $2.5 million in liens against it, but was considered worth far less, according to court documents.

Since the casino closed, the building has been a target of looters and transients.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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