Investigators suspect arson in eatery fire

Police await lab results

PORT ANGELES — The fire that destroyed Castaways Restaurant Lounge on Jan. 31 is being investigated as a possible arson.

Authorities are waiting for lab test results from evidence collected by the building owner’s insurance investigator to determine what started the blaze at 1213 Marine Drive, said Deputy Police Chief Jason Viada of the Port Angeles Police Department on Thursday.

The building, valued at $475,000 and located on the Port of Port Angeles’ Boat Haven parking lot, was owned by Martin D. Gault, whose ground lease with the port expired Feb. 1.

“It has not yet been determined if it’s arson or not,” Viada said.

“The case is assigned to a detective, but we are waiting for lab results.”

If the insurance company determines an accelerant started the fire, the police department will work with the insurance company in trying to determine who set it, Viada said.

Gault held a $436-a-month land lease for 6,248 square feet on which the building sat. The agreement includes parking.

“We were about to execute an option on their lease for another five-year option that they indicated they wanted to execute,” Port Executive Geoff James said in an earlier interview.

Peninsula Daily News has been unable to reach Gault for comment.

He lists his address on county assessor’s office records as the restaurant-lounge.

Port Angeles Fire Department-Assistant Chief Mike Sanders will not release his phone number. Sanders, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, said in an earlier interview that Gault does not live at the restaurant.

Sanders said the fire department has talked with Gault about the blaze.

Viada said the department had no knowledge of homeless individuals using the Castaways’ premises for shelter.

The fire was reported at 1:45 a.m. Jan. 31, several hours after Castaways customers, who had been watching an NFL playoff game, departed, Sanders said later that morning.

He said the building was heavily involved when firefighters arrived and that, afterward, it was difficult to determine a point of origin for the flames.

John Nutter, port director of finance and administration, said Thursday that Gault had paid his final month of rent to the port.

He said it appears Gault’s insurance company will remove the burned structure.

“We’ll have our land back and start considering options of what to put there,” Nutter said.

That process will include community outreach and input from marina tenants.

“We had anticipated the building would be there another 10 years, if not more,” Nutter said.

Port Commissioner Steven Burke said Thursday the port is anxious to put the property back into use.

“We all want it cleaned up,” he said.

“I think we’re all on the same page on that.”

James, who could not be reached Thursday for comment, estimated in a mid-February interview that cleanup, performed by port maintenance and facilities staff, would take about a week and cost $60,000-$70,000.

“We don’t envision this will last for months,” he said of how long the debris would remain standing.

The original land lease was signed in 1987 for use by Port Angeles Charters and Tackle Co.

The current lease began in 1997, and Gault began subleasing the land in 2005, James said.

He purchased the building for $500,000 in 2005 from Satendra Maharaj, according to assessor’s office records.

It was remodeled in 2006, according to the city Department of Community and Economic Development.

Gault took over the land lease in 2012, James said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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