Bowling alley fire leaves officials unsure of cause

Sean C. Morgan

Ron and Mary Ann Rettke are simply relieved to have escaped the fire that ripped through their bowling center and apartment early Friday morning, destroying everything.

The fire, reported at 2:25 a.m., left nothing but the concrete walls of the structure, 2435 Main St.

At about 1 a.m., Ron said, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

“I was sound asleep,” he said. “I had gone to sleep about 1 o’clock. I heard the rumbling. We were awaked by a rumbling sound that I thought was thunder outside.”

Mary Ann had fallen asleep watching television in another room, Ron said. “I got up, put my glasses on to look outside, and it was clear outside.”

He opened the door into a smoky living room, he said. He grabbed his pants to go downstairs and see what was causing it. While he was putting on his pants, through a window, he saw the fire breaking through the domed roof above the lanes.

“We both woke up at the same time,” Ron said.

“I didn’t know if it was an earthquake or the washing machine was off balance,” Mary Ann said. Then she realized it was fire, and she called for Ron.

Ron’s first thought was to let loose his 4-year-old Australian shepherd, Charlie, who was penned up for the night, and give him a chance, Ron said, but he was blocked by flames and smoke in a hallway. The dog is apparently dead.

“I knew I was going to have to get Mary Ann and get out of there,” Ron said. He ran back through the bedroom, grabbing his phone to call 9-1-1, to the room where Mary Ann was having difficulty opening a window. Ron worked at it and couldn’t open it, and then it broke.

He’s not sure whether he smashed it with his elbow or what happened, but it was open, he said. He climbed through onto the ledge above the main entrance to the bowling center, on the west side. He pulled Mary Ann out, and they awaited rescue while the air kept getting hotter around them.

They estimated they were on the ledge for about 10 minutes total.

As firefighters arrived, jets of flame were visible through vents in the roof.

Firefighters used a ladder to help the Rettkes down, and they ushered them quickly to an ambulance waiting in front of the Skyline Inn.

Within minutes the bowstring truss roof above the bowling lanes collapsed and the fire spread quickly through the apartment.

Both Rettkes were treated by local medics. They later traveled by private vehicle to Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital for further examination and treatment. Ron sustained cuts to his left hand, arm and a heel. He received stitches. Mary Ann had a 2 1/2-inch sliver of glass pulled from her calf at the hospital, and she learned she had a broken toe.

“All these injuries, we didn’t really notice,” Mary Ann said. “We were standing on glass. You’re in shock and your adrenaline’s going.”

“There was no way we should have made it out of there,” Ron said. “It was like God sent that thunder to wake us up. It was 100 percent lucky we made it out of that building. God’s got something planned for us.”

Red Cross and the Trauma Intervention Program personnel responded, and Red Cross provided motel accommodations, basic supplies and vouchers for clothing and other necessities to the Rettkes.

Cory Anderson was among a group of four who first noticed the fire and reported it.

“We drove by, dropped a friend off,” Anderson said. “We turned around and came back, then we saw it. It was a matter of 10 minutes. We first saw real heavy smoke. As we pulled over, poof, it went up.”

He was in a vehicle with Jeremy Campbell, Anthony Huffman and Shawneen Santana, who called 9-1-1.

“The biggest challenge with this fire was the bowstring truss construction of the bowling alley,” said Fire Chief Mike Beaver. When one truss fails, they all fail; and that type of roof fails early, keeping firefighters from entering the building.

From the moment the firefighters arrived, it was a defensive action, Beaver said. The concrete exterior walls helped protect the neighboring Skyline Inn Restaurant, firefighters and firefighting equipment from the heat.

“Our aerials worked great once we established enough water to make them work properly,” Beaver said. Once the roof collapsed, it released the majority of the heat and firefighters were mainly dealing with a burning pile of debris on the floor of structure.

“The folks were very fortunate to get out,” Beaver said.

“The bottom line: The community lost a business, and we can’t afford to lose any businesses.”

Investigators have been unable to determine a cause, Beaver said. “We can find that the building was secure at the time the fire started, which rules out suspicious things.”

Investigators also believe they located the area where the fire started, near the center of the building; but without knowing what was in the attic, which collapsed to the floor below, they cannot determine how it started.

The investigation team was made up of members of the Linn-Benton Fire Investigation Task Force, Beaver said. That included mostly firefighters from Albany along with a representative from the Oregon State Police and firefighters from Sweet Home.

The Rettkes purchased Sweet Home Lanes in 1987. Ron was working as bowling and maintenance manager for the Elks Lodge in Milwaukie when he became aware of the opportunity to buy the bowling center.

He purchased it from Ken and Barb Bates.

The building was finished sometime around 1961, Ron said. The first eight of the center’s 12 lanes came from a bowling center that had been attached to the Skyline Inn.

When that bowling center burned, the lanes were sanded and flipped over to be used in the new bowling alley, he said. Sweet Home Lanes has had several different owners.

“I’ve been in bowling all my life,” Ron said, adding that his extended family owns “about six” bowling centers. “My mom was a bowling teacher, and she bought a bowling center. I just grew up in it.”

“I enjoy working with the kids and working with people,” he said. He especially enjoyed doing birthday parties and putting on events for schools and classrooms.

“When bowling slowed down a little, I branched into sports cards and (collectible) card gaming,” Ron said. He even turned some of those players into bowlers.

Five years ago, he opened a Stone Willy pizzeria, and recently, he had added a pool table.

Like Ron, his grandson Justin Casciano was growing up around bowling.

“I spent more time there than I did at home,” Justin said. He would go there every day after school. He and his friends would take out the trash and do an odd job here or there for pizza or to bowl a round, enjoying his time with grandpa and grandma.

Ron had already taught him how to fix the machines, and he was the bowling center’s pin chaser.

“He learned to walk in the bowling alley,” his mother, Teri, said.

Anderson said he probably bowled there once a month more recently.

“That building’s been there 50 years,” he said. “We’ve been going there since we were little kids. I’ve known Ron my whole life basically.”

“We miss the pizza – best curly fries too,” he said. “It was a childhood memory, that place, for us.”

Ron Rettke doesn’t know whether they will rebuild yet, he said. “Till the insurance investigation is done and we find out what’s what, we have no plans whatsoever.

“We have to take our age into consideration, our health. I’d love to tell the community we are definitely rebuilding, but we can’t.”

Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District received assistance from the Lebanon and Brownsville fire departments, Sweet Home Police Department, Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Sweet Home Public Works and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Some 40 firefighters from Sweet Home, Brownsville and Lebanon responded with two aerial trucks and seven engines.

An account to receive cash donations has been set up for the Rettkes under Sweet Home Lanes and Ron Rettke at Wells Fargo bank and Umpqua, and the Chamber of Commerce will receive item donations, including supplies, furniture and other household goods, during office hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. After hours and over the weekend, contact Manager Andrea Culy at (541) 401-3631.

By Sunday evening, the Rettkes reported that they need no additional clothing.

They want to give Sweet Home a “big thank you because we literally got out of there with nothing,” Ron said. “This town has helped us overwhelmingly.”

They wanted especially to recognize their daughter-in-law, Teri Casciano, and Bruce Hobbs for their efforts to help the Rettkes recover from the fire. Casciano, who has taken charge of just about everything, has stayed with them constantly, and Hobbs has taken care of numerous tasks.

The Rettkes’ grandchildren, Justin Casciano and Jessi Davenport, also have been a constant support, they said.

Mary Ann’s online gaming community at has sent donations to the Wells Fargo account, she said.

Local businesses have been great, Ron said. They’ve received support from Safeway, The Point, All-Star Pizza and most especially Lynn at Skyline Inn.

“There so many, we can’t name them all,” he said, including the Firefighters Association, the Red Cross and numerous individuals.

“To the fire department, extra thank you,” Ron said. “I’m extremely thankful no one was hurt fighting the fire.”