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Suspicious fire damages historic Point Defiance Pagoda

Fire crew fight a fire at the pagoda in Point Defiance Park early morning, April 15, 2011.
Janet Jensen
The News Tribune/ AP
Fire crew fight a fire at the pagoda in Point Defiance Park early morning, April 15, 2011.

An early morning fire has damaged the iconic, nearly 100-year-old Pagoda structure inside Tacoma's Point Defiance Park, but Metro Parks officials believe the brick building can be repaired. It will just take awhile; though exactly how long will not be known until inspectors can get into the building to assess the damage. The building is insured.

Tacoma police spokesman Mark Fulghum told The News Tribune the fire is "suspicious in origin."

A Tacoma police detective and forensic specialists have responded to the Pagoda to investigate further.

Investigators will be looking at whether the fire is related to a break-in at the Pagoda last week or small fires set in the park over the past couple of weeks, Fulghum said

"We need some time to gather more information. We are going to carefully get our instructions from the fire department," said Marina Becker, who manages operations and maintenance for Metro Parks.

Metro Parks events staff were already working to move events planned for the building. There was a wedding rehearsal in the Pagoda on Thursday night and a wedding planned for tonight. Also, students from the Tacoma School District's Science and Math Institute used the building everyday for lunch.

"I think this is going to affect a lot of people directly because this is their rental but also a lot of people indirectly because it's our heritage. It's really sad for the whole city. It's a historic treasure," Becker said.

The fire damage was concentrated on the building's southern end, where the kitchen was located. Fire crews were pulling clay tiles off the roof at that end and using chainsaws to ventilate the structure. The windows were tinted from the smoke damage.

Crews were called to the building at 4:25 a.m. after a Metro Parks garbage worker spotted the fire. When firefighters arrived, they found the building “fully charged with smoke". The fire was later upgraded to a second alarm, bringing more fire crews to the scene.