It’s been a tough month for George Barner and the home he owns in the 800 block of Fifth Avenue Southwest in Olympia.
After a suspected burglar broke into the house earlier this month, it was destroyed by fire Sunday.
Barner, who has been staying at a local hotel since Thurston County SWAT removed the suspected burglar, showed up on the scene Sunday with family and friends.
“I’m stunned,” said Barner in comments to the paper Sunday. “I don’t know what to think.”
About 11:35 a.m. Sunday, the Olympia Fire Department was dispatched to the residence after reports of smoke in the area. Within minutes, smoke began billowing from the home and drifting over the neighborhood, visible from downtown and east Olympia. The house was built in 1923, according to Thurston County Assessor data.
Battalion Chief Pat Noonan said Sunday that Thurston County SWAT responded to the residence earlier this month to remove a suspected burglar. Olympia fire was called on to ventilate the house after the SWAT response, which may have involved use of pepper spray or tear gas, Deputy Fire Chief Greg Wright said Sunday.
The house had been unoccupied since the SWAT response earlier this month, he said.
Fire crews had difficultly accessing the house because it was filled with debris, plus there was ammunition and possibly gunpowder, Wright said. As the fire burned Sunday, an occasional “whump” could be heard as fire triggered some kind of explosion.
Lt. Brian Schenk, who investigates the causes of fires, said it could be hard to determine the cause of the Barner home fire because of the debris and ammunition. He couldn’t rule out arson Sunday.
The home has become structurally unsafe after the fire, so he expects the fire department to use an excavator to knock it down to a safe level, Schenk said. The home was still burning Sunday.
The home is insured and a private investigator might conduct an investigation, he said.
Barner is a former Port of Olympia commissioner. He served on the commission since 2008 until he was defeated by Commissioner Joe Downing in 2015. Barner served on the Thurston County commission from 1977 to 1992.