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Blaze guts Olympic Arms sales office
South Sound Thursday, June 8, 2000

Blaze guts gun sales office

THURSTON COUNTY -- About 35 firefighters battled a fire Wednesday
afternoon that cost a firearms manufacturer millions of dollars, according to an estimate. 

As a few rounds of ammunition went off in the fire, firefighters fought the blaze in the old, wooden building owned by Olympic Arms Inc. 

"I'm sure everything in it is a complete loss," said Thomas Spithaler, who
works in sales and marketing and acted as Olympic Arms' spokesman.
"Everything that we could fit in the truck is what we have." 

The family-owned company has been in Nisqually Valley for about 25 years and employs about 50 people, Spithaler said. 

Olympic Arms manufactures and sells small arms, rifles, carbines and hand guns for sporting, military and law enforcement uses. 

The company -- which is owned by Robert C. Schuetz -- is expected to be back in operation within a week, Spithaler said. 

The company has several other buildings on the same property. Employees managed to rescue key computers and files from the fire, Spithaler said. 

The fire was first spotted by an employee who opened the door to an 8-foot by 10-foot secure room used to test-fire weapons. 

"We dumped three or four fire extinguishers on it," Spithaler said. 

But the extinguishers didn't slow the fire, he said. 

Employees called the fire department. 

"It all went pretty quick," Spithaler said. "We were able to save some of the more critical items." 

Police blocked off a section of Old Pacific Highway Southeast from Kuhlman Road to Sixth Avenue for hours while the blaze was extinguished. 

When Scott Smith, who was standing in the rain while firefighters directed powerful streams of water at the fire, first stopped to observe, he saw a lot of smoke coming out of the building. 

"They were hauling boxes of what looked like ammo out the front door,"
Smith said. "It's been a stubborn fire." 

Firefighters started battling the fire from the inside, but the blaze fed on the old, dry wood and crept behind double walls, said Lacey fire Capt. Chris von Neudegg. 

"It was doubling in size every two minutes," von Neudegg said. 

Firefighters pulled out of the building and fought it from the outside. 

"We had ammo going off," von Neudegg said. "For the most part it's not
dangerous, but it was unsettling." 

The firefighters managed to keep the fire away from a nearby house and a large vacant building. 

The fire was under control by about 2 p.m. and out by 4 p.m., von Neudegg said. 

The cause of the fire still was under investigation, but it did not appear
suspicious at this time, von Neudegg said. 

Spithaler said employees plan to sort through the ashes for salvageable
remains today. 

But the company did manage to salvage an important shipment. 

"Thank God we were able to save three or four hundred units that we're
shipping to Taiwan tomorrow," Spithaler said Wednesday while firefighters doused lingering flames. 

Liona Tannesen covers crime and law enforcement for The Olympian.
She can be reached at 754-5427. 

The Olympian Copyright 2000