The former Tillicum Inn has risen from the ashes.

The Umatilla hotel has been franchised as an Econo Lodge and is reopening Friday after closing for more than a year to repair damage from a fire.

Jose Quinones, who has owned the 40-room hotel with his wife Parveen for three years, said they can’t wait to finally open their doors again. On Wednesday workers were putting the finishing touches on the building, which will have a grand opening celebration at 2 p.m. on Friday.

“It took a long time, but we’re here,” Quinones said.

The inn was lucky in a lot of ways, but even with the stars aligning, the fire meant more than a year of lost revenue and employees who took jobs elsewhere during the closure.

Hotel manager Josie Kepich, who stuck with the business through the past year, said the fire started around noon on Sept. 6, 2017. Luckily, she said, because it started in the middle of the day there were only about seven people in the building and she was able to quickly get them out before anyone was injured.

The blaze heavily burned six rooms in the center of the building — three upstairs and three downstairs — but other rooms were also damaged by smoke, water and firefighters chopping holes in the roof to help them put the flames out more quickly. It got so hot in the upstairs hallway that the plastic case around the fire extinguisher melted.

“It was ugly,” Kepich said. “After everyone left, I came in here and though ‘Oh my gosh.’”

Kepich had been on the phone with Quinones when she had suddenly shouted that there was smoke and she had to go. After trying to call her back, Quinones, who was in Washington at another hotel his family owns, rushed to Umatilla.

When asked how the fire started, Kepich and Quinones said it was an electrical cause, but they didn’t know the exact problem or what room the fire started in. They said they preferred to leave that to the insurance company and fire department to discuss directly.

“That’s in the past; we’re looking forward,” Kepich said.

After the fire, they started working through the insurance claims process and getting all the needed permits to strip most of the building down to the studs and completely remodel. Smoke-damaged linens, carpet, drapes, beds and other items were tossed out and contractors from Belfor Restorations were brought in. Luckily, Quinones said, Farmers Insurance was great to work with, and everyone from city staff to the Umatilla Chamber of Commerce told the business to just let them know whatever they needed.

“It’s been hard, but we have had everyone helping us,” Kepich added.

While some employees have moved onto other jobs since the fire, Kepich said many are returning to work for what will known be known as the Econo Lodge. Customers, too, have been using other hotels, but Kepich said judging by the number of calls she still gets asking when they will be open again, at least some are planning to return next time they’re in town.

“We need to get opened up and start some revenues going again,” she said.

Quinones said after all the community has done for them, he and his wife and the staff are anxious to find ways to give back to the community once they reopen.

The newly remodeled Econo Lodge features new “everything,” from furniture to carpet to showers. Private kitchenettes have been added to some rooms, and the business had added a continental breakfast. Refreshments and tours of the remodeled hotel at 1481 Sixth Street will be available Friday at 2 p.m. during the open house.

Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

Reporter

East Oregonian and Hermiston Herald reporter covering city government and economic development in Hermiston, Umatilla, Stanfield and Echo.

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