By the time I heard about the big fire, it was too late to see flames filling the nighttime sky. Two hours after the five-alarm fire was brought under control, when we drove across the Interstate Bridge on our way to church, the flames had disappeared, but the twisted ruins of the vacant Thunderbird on the River Hotel complex on Jantzen Beach-Hayden Island were clearly evident.
Three days later, fire fighters were still shooting plumes of water into smoldering, smoking hot spots.
Since its construction in 1971, this hotel has held down what once was a prime location on the Oregon end of this important bridge over the Columbia River. Even in these recent years, when it has been vacant, surrounded by chain link, and increasingly forlorn in appearance, it has riveted my attention on my frequent bike trips over the river.
Its demise has come about because newer, more efficient motels have been built near by, increasing the competition. Business plans change and once desirable properties lose their appeal.
In the case of the former Thunderbird, however, a major factor is continuing uncertainty about the proposed Columbia River Crossing, the $4 billion new bridge that is supposed to be built during the coming decade. The design for the bridge has not yet been determined nor has its exact footprint as it crosses Hayden Island where the hotel is located.
It’s too early to determine why the complex of buildings burned down. A crew of inspectors, chemists, and arson dogs has already begun their investigation of the ruins. Presumably, the demolition and removal of these ruined structures will get started fairly soon.
There will be lot’s to watch as I continue my rides across the I-5 bridge.