Roofers blamed; building housed apartments, bistro

ASHLAND -- The historic Waterside Inn received heavy damage Wednesday after a fire broke out in the attic of the building, which houses seven apartments and the Dragonfly Bistro.

Black smoke billowed from the roof for more than two hours as firefighters from Ashland, Fire District 5, Phoenix and Medford worked to contain the fire at 70 Water St. It began about 2 p.m. and spread across the roof and down into several apartments. No one was injured.

Building owner Ann Clouse said the fire was caused by roofers who were repairing a leak.

Workers were just finishing up a new roof, said Clouse. They were applying some sort of heated rubber and got in one corner where there was a bunch of straw from some mice ... and it just caught.

Ashland fire chief Keith Woodley had no damage estimate on the building Wednesday night but said damage was substantial.

The building had been remodeled a number of times and had a lot of concealed spaces in it, Woodley said. Fire got inside those spaces, burning inside the walls and attic and damaging the electrical system and ceiling, he said.

Woodley said one of the apartments was significantly damaged, and the restaurant had smoke damage. The fire chief said it was uncertain if the damage was going to be repairable.

It's another case for the installation of fire sprinklers, he said of the building, which didn't have sprinklers. They can make the difference between opening the next day or not ever opening again.

Fire crews planned to stay at the site overnight, watering down hot spots.

At least four apartments were occupied at the time of the fire, including building owner Clouse's own. But Clouse's main concern was the safety of her nine Himalayan cats and five other outside cats. They may stink a little, joked Clouse.

Inn resident Peg Mackey was alerted to the fire by a smoke detector and quickly left the building. I don't even have a nightgown, she complained.

Clouse said the building hasn't been covered by insurance since one company wanted to greatly increase her rates.

The fire is the latest in a series of tragedies for Clouse and the 120-year-old building, which was heavily damaged in the New Year's Day flood of 1997. Clouse noted that Wednesday's fire occurred on the two-year anniversary of her husband, Bob's, death. Clouse herself has suffered several strokes since 1997.

Everything we did was tied to that building, said Clouse. I just put $100,000 into the building. I just hope I can get it ready for the season.