NE Portland businesses bounce back after 2011 fireworks fire

NE Portland businesses bounce back after 2011 fireworks fire

PORTLAND, Ore. - Kat Whitehead and her co-owners didn't skimp on their dreams of success when they opened their popular Northeast Portland restaurant, Aviary.

"All of us had pretty much put everything we had -financially, physically and emotionally - into it,” she recalls.

And all the hard work looked to be paying off last summer, just five months after opening, as Aviary seemed to be taking off and turning profitable.

"We were getting all this amazing press,” Whitehead said, “all of a sudden we’re really busy and we were really optimistic about how things were going."

Then, July 4th happened. Or more precisely, the illegal fireworks-caused fire on July 4th that triggered the sprinklers and forced firefighters to open their hoses on the building where Aviary and another business, Barista, are located.

After the fire was out and crews cleared the scene, "we walked in here and it was just black water pouring down from the ceiling,” Whitehead said. "It was a nightmare."

The water damage forced Aviary to shut down for five months. Barista closed for four months. But both businesses moved to rebuild.

"Basically, all the drywall you see in this space had to be removed,” Billy Wilson of Barista said.

Insurance payouts helped employees survive while waiting for a second chance.

Now, a year later, both businesses are heading into their first Fourth of July after the big fire.

"We’re just happy to be back in business. We still feel really lucky that we were able to make it back," Whitehead said.

Whoever set off the firework that landed on the roof of the building likely lit the fuse in a courtyard next to the building - and that's where both business owners said they will be focusing their attention this year.

"There will probably be a group of staff here late at night hanging out just to make sure,” Wilson said.

Whitehead said she’s “really, really nervous. We're definitely going to be checking the roof” during the night of the Fourth. Aviary will also be open on the 4th as well, she said.

Whitehead said she'd like to see fireworks banned altogether in Oregon because of the fire risk while Wilson just hopes revelers keep fireworks out of crowded neighborhoods.

“You may be having fun then, but you just don't think about the harm you could be causing to somebody else,” he said.

In 2011, Portland police received nearly 300 fireworks complaint calls overnight on July 4th.

This year, police said they will be out patrolling and writing citations for illegal fireworks.