by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The hand-lettered sign on the door of Capitol Hill Alano Club read, in big block letters, 'CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE DUE TO FIRE.'
A police officer driving by the building at 1900 E. Madison at 2:40 a.m. on March 22 saw smoke pouring out of a second floor window. He called the fire department.
'After the fire scene was stabilized by SFD, investigators informed officers that they had discovered burglary tools and signs of arson inside the building,' according to the SPD Blotter blog.
According to Seattle's Fire Department, firefighters put out the fire in less than 15 minutes.
Total damages were estimated at $75,000.
'I guess they came in the side door,' Alano Club's David Coburn told SGN at the scene. 'It looks like the front door hasn't been breached.'
Just inside the front door, the sliding glass window of a small snack shop was shattered. Inside, the snack shop safe had been forced open.
'They took all the money,' Coburn said, 'but it wasn't very much. They did all this for $20 or $30.'
Newspapers sitting on a table were soaked with water. The carpet was also wet and blackened by soot. As Coburn was showing the damage, a loud crash came from an adjoining room.
'What the hell was that?' he exclaimed.
'Look,' he said as he walked into the room, 'the ceiling just collapsed.' A rough triangle of sheet rock hung down from the ceiling.
In the upstairs office, files and other flammable materials were scattered on the floor, and had been set on fire.
According to the incident commander at the scene, the fire was limited to this office.
'The sprinklers worked. The safe hasn't been opened. They broke the mechanism but they couldn't get into the safe. This filing cabinet is OK. I haven't opened it yet, but it doesn't look like it's been opened. This computer is still on. I think the data might be salvageable,' Coburn said, surveying the damage.
'And there's a broken window,' he added.
A hole had been punched in the office wall surrounding a money drop slot. In the office itself, the perpetrator had tried to force open a small safe.
According to Coburn, the Alano Club keeps very little cash on the premises.
'We pass the basket at meetings,' he told SGN. 'People drop in maybe $2. You might get $15 or $20 at a small meeting, and maybe $30 to $50 at a big meeting. It goes into that slot and then our treasurer picks it up.'
Coburn would not speculate about the perpetrator's identity or motives.
'I'm not a detective,' he said.
Coburn said that Alano Club board members would be meeting soon with the building owner to discuss insurance questions.
Asked if he expected the Alano Club to be out any money, Coburn replied, 'Oh, we'll be out money. Even if it's just the deductible, we'll be out money.'
'How much?' he continued, 'I don't know yet. We don't have any money. Meetings don't cover our expenses. They cover half, maybe a little more. That's why we have fundraisers throughout the year.'
The immediate problem, Coburn says, is finding space for Alano Club's recovery meetings.
'We have 60 meetings per week,' Coburn said. 'We have 1,500 or 1,600 people per week going through here.'
Besides Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Alano Club serves a wide range of addictions, including narcotics, crystal meth, sex, overeating, and hoarding.
'We're asking neighbors, the community, other nonprofits or charities [to] help us with a place to relocate our meetings,' Coburn said.
As Coburn prepared to leave the Alano Club office, a man approached.
'I came by this morning and I saw the sign,' the man said, pointing at the sign on the front door. 'I was so upset. That shouldn't happen.'
The man promised Coburn to come back and help clean up once the police had completed their investigation.
'You see?' Coburn said after the man left. 'You see what this means? Especially for new people in recovery. There's something about the Gay and Lesbian community that the straight world just doesn't understand. That's why this is here. It's safe. It's a safety net for people.'
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