Upper Columbia Office Goes Up in Flames

February 01, 2009 | Jay Wintermeyer

Have you ever felt like you didn't know how to move forward? That's how many felt Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008, as they stood and watched firefighters attempt to save the Upper Columbia Conference office building in Spokane, Wash., from a massive blaze.

The fire began before dawn in the Adventist Book Center portion of the building. It triggered the building's fire and intrusion detection system, which in turn notified Bill Skidmore, office manager. Skidmore arrived at the building around 5:30 a.m. to find the bookstore engulfed in flames and fire crews already at work.

Ironically, Skidmore wasn't the only conference employee to receive early word of the fire. Herman Schreven, bookstore manager, learned of the blaze at 5:15 a.m. when his wife, Sandy, a fire district lieutenant, was paged.

In spite of efforts to save the building, two thirds of the building completely burned to the ground. The remaining portion is unusable due to smoke and water damage.

Since the fire, conference employees have been working tirelessly to restore services. Phones and e-mail for the conference were back up and running within 12 hours after the fire was put out. They have also been able to restore access to all the servers which were pulled from the building during the fire.

In addition, there were no injuries, and none of the vault contents were damaged. All critical documents, property deeds, wills, and historical archives were saved. Miraculously, the fire burned right up to the vaults, but stopped before damaging contents. As soon as it was safe, employees moved vault contents to a fire-safe storage company in Spokane.

The UCC plans to rebuild in the same location. However, "reconstruction may take up to two years," says Max Torkelsen II, former conference president.

A search for a temporary office is underway. In the meantime, various conference departments are being housed in several Adventist churches and private homes. Interim department phone numbers and locations are available on the conference Web site, at www.uccsda.org.

"Our goal is to provide services as consistently as possible and to pull together as a team. Your prayers and understanding are greatly appreciated as we adjust to a new way of operating at the UCC office," says Torkelsen.