Ricky Ambrose, an employee with SERVO, cleans up at the former American Trails Store, which was among several businesses damaged by an arson fire on the Plaza Monday. - Jamie Lusch

After Ashland Plaza blaze, business owners are taking stock of what's left

ASHLAND — Most of the businesses affected by the March 19 fire in downtown Ashland will be closed for at least a month, but they have yet to learn how much it will cost to repair water, smoke and structural damage.

Crews from Medford-based SERVPRO, a fire and water cleanup and restoration outfit, are cleaning up the soot and removing damaged pieces of the building on Ashland's Plaza in preparation for repairs.

Owner Tim McFall said it will take about two weeks to finish the cleanup.

Ron Hansen, owner of Gold & Gems, said the smoke damage is worse than he suspected, and it may take up to a month before his store is ready for customers again.

Police say the fire was started by Raymond Lee Wilson, 37, a homeless man who recently arrived in Ashland.

"I think it's safe to say that it's going to cost upwards of $50,000," Hansen said.

Insurance will cover most of that, said Hansen, but not all of the costs the business will incur as a result of the fire.

"Smoke does more damage than people think," he said.

He said the jewelry store's staff is making itself available for customers who need their jewelry serviced, but the air-ventilation system, furniture and walls within the store are going to need to be cleaned and possibly replaced before the doors reopen.

Hana Sushi will have to replace the ceiling above its restaurant, said owner William Barchet, but as of late last week, insurance adjusters hadn't finished assessing the damage.

Barchet said Hana likely will be closed for up to two months.

Sam Wong, whose family trust owns the building that houses Hana Sushi, the Ashland Painters Union, two apartments and the former American Trails store, said it likely will be a few months before any of the businesses can reopen.

Wong also owns the staircase near where the fire started.

The floor of the Painters Union gallery, which is above the ceiling of the former American Trails store, will need to be replaced, said Wong, adding that section of the building is currently unsafe to occupy.

Repairing it may take up to two months, he said.

The Painters Union and two apartments that share the building's second floor received considerable smoke damage. Soot is visible on every wall of the second story, cobwebs are black, and there is a strong stench of old smoke.

Thread Hysteria, next to Gold & Gems, still had a subtle, lingering smell of smoke late last week, but was open for business with a deodorizer and dehumidifier running inside.

McFall said the dehumidifiers are used to remove moisture from the wood-studded buildings dowsed by water during firefighting efforts.

The Hong Kong Bar, located above Thread Hysteria, also will be closed for an undetermined amount of time because of the fire, said Manager Mel Bradley. The stairwell where the fire may have originated was the bar's fire escape, she said, and until it's refurbished, the bar will remain closed.

That repair may take a few months, said Wong.

Bradley said Hong Kong will have to replace its linens and clean the upholstery in the bar, which were damaged by smoke, but the business doesn't yet have an estimate for the costs.

Once McFall's crews are finished cleaning up the mess and demolishing damaged portions of the building, plans for structural repairs will have to be approved by the city of Ashland.

"We can't just go and do it all at once," said Wong.

An Ashland police officer spotted the fire shortly before 3 a.m. March 19. Wilson was arrested a short time later and is lodged in the Jackson County Jail on $200,000 bail.

Before he was arrested, Wilson also allegedly vandalized two stores, stole tobacco and energy drinks from one, and broke windows in a homeless man's truck that night, police said, all in the downtown area.

Wilson screamed incoherently during his arraignment hearing March 20 in Jackson County Circuit Court.

When Jackson County sheriff's deputies tried to seat him in front of a video camera that feeds to Judge Lorenzo Mejia's courtroom, Wilson grew red-faced and began crying.

Leaning toward the camera, Wilson shouted repeatedly for an attorney. As his screams grew louder and his statements became less intelligible, Mejia turned the volume off and disconnected the video feed.

"Obviously, Mr. Wilson has serious mental health issues," said Jackson County prosecutor Adam Peterson.

Wilson faces 13 charges, including five counts of first-degree arson; one count each of second-degree criminal mischief, burglary and theft; three counts of reckless endangering; and first-degree criminal mischief and menacing.

Peterson anticipates six additional endangering charges will be added following a grand jury hearing because further investigation has uncovered more potential victims from the fires Wilson allegedly started, he said.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

Share This Story