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Apartment fire in east Green Lake: one fatality

What do you think? (13 Comments) February 15, 2010 at 2:47PM

505 NE 70th StThere was a fire at Green Lake Plaza (505 NE 70th St, near southbound I-5) today (Monday, February 15, 2010).  Emergency response was first called to the scene at 1:24 p.m.

Flames and a large smoke plume could be seen from several blocks away.  Witnesses reported seeing residents of the building leaning out of their windows.

VIDEO: from Craig Downing for My Green Lake.

Helen Fitzpatrick, Seattle Fire Department spokesperson, told reporters that the fire started on the 7th floor. There was one fatality in the fire.  The man who died lived on the 7th floor.  No other fatalities or injuries have been reported.

Helen Fitzpatrick, Seattle Fire Department

Helen Fitzpatrick, Seattle Fire Department

Fitzpatrick said that 70-80 firefighters responded.

At 3:15 p.m., several of the fire response units could be seen packing up and driving away, but many remained.

Evacuated resident and his parrot

Evacuated resident and his parrot

Fitzpatrick explained that several residents had been asked to not leave the building.  About thirty residents were displaced from their units and stood next to the building, clutching belongings and pets.

Emotions ran high among the gathered residents.  Many were visibly upset.  One woman was loudly complaining about being told by a building manager to “keep quiet” about the victim of the fire.

Several residents of the building told me that the person who died was an elderly man who was wheelchair-bound.  A prevalent rumor (which I was not able to confirm with the Seattle Fire Department) is that the fire was caused by the man who died, who had been smoking.

Residents also reported to me that fire alarms did not go off on several of the floors.  Many residents learned of the fire by neighbors banging on their doors. (Update, Tuesday 8:30 a.m.: We have since learned that there are no sprinklers in the building.  This is not atypical of Seattle Housing Authority buildings.)

Residents of the building check-in with a building manager

A resident of the building checks-in with a building manager

The apartment building is low-income housing operated by the Seattle Housing Authority.  It contains 129 studio and one-bedroom apartments.

See a slideshow of photos at KIROTV.com, and stay tuned to My Green Lake – we’ll be publishing video of the scene shortly.

Update, 5:10 p.m.: The Seattle Fire Department is reporting that damage was done to the exterior of the 11-floor building on the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th floors.  There is no information yet on the damage to the inside of the building.

The final tally of responders to the scene is over 100, including medics.

The fire took 15 minutes to get under control and was out within 30 minutes.

Update, 5:45 p.m.: From KING5:

Update, 8:40 p.m.: Some more information and some great pictures are available at Maple Leaf Life.

Also, we missed this earlier tweet from Casey McNerthney of seattlepi.com:

For movie buffs, the building on fire near Green Lake is the one seen in the freeway scene of Harry and the Hendersons. http://bit.ly/aOz0jz

Update, 9:10 p.m.: We just got word of one more rumor making its rounds among the residents of Green Lake Plaza.  The rumor (emphasis on rumor) is that the fire was caused by a resident leaving a stove on.  Still no reports from the Seattle Fire Department about the official cause of the fire.

Update, 9:45 p.m.: Helen Fitzpatrick of the Seattle Fire Department just updated local media outlets.

The fire is still under investigation.  There was one fatality, a male in his seventies.  The fire started in his unit.

There is smoke damage in the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th floors of the 11-story building.

The 7th floor was evacuated.  Fourteen people, including residents of the seventh floor as well as residents of units directly above and below the unit where the fire started, have not been allowed back into their homes, due to smoke damage.  Red Cross has been called to assist them.  KIRO 7 is reporting that the residents will be spending the night at the Green Lake Community Center.  (Update, Tuesday 8:30 a.m.: This has been confirmed by the Seattle Red Cross.)

Damage is estimated at $300,000.

Update, 9:55 p.m. Just found this clip from the scene via KIRO 7.

Update, 10:40 p.m. Earlier today, we reported that we had heard from several residents that the fire may have caused by the victim, who was smoking.  KING 5 is reporting the following:

Investigators are looking into the possibility that the man killed in an apartment fire in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood Monday afternoon may have been smoking while on oxygen. [ ... ]

The Housing Authority says there are strict rules about open flames in apartments where oxygen is used or stored.

“Well, it is strictly forbidden in our policies,” said Virginia Felton, communications director of the authority.

From the comments on the KING 5 story:

The building does not have water sprinklers inside the apartments. It was built before City code mandated this. That building has a history of tenants that smoke in bed and also smoking in bed while using oxygen!

Update, Tuesday 10:30 a.m. The Seattle Times is reporting that the man who died was identified this morning as Alphonso Goldwire.  They have also confirmed that the fire was caused by the victim, who was on oxygen and had been smoking.

The Times report also contains details from an interview with Virginia Felton, spokeswoman for the Seattle Housing Authority, which operates the home:

Reports that there was no fire alarm in the building were incorrect, said Felton, though many residents were alerted to the fire when others banged on their doors. “The alarms were audible and flashing, and they worked as they were supposed to,” said Felton, saying she was baffled by reports that the alarms weren’t working.

Felton said the cinderblock building has no sprinkler systems because it was built before city codes required them. All of the building’s studio and one-bedroom apartments are cinderblock or concrete, she said, and typically with that kind of construction, fires don’t spread.

That’s what happened in this case, she said. “It didn’t go substantially beyond that apartment.”

Felton also said that to retrofit all SHA buildings without sprinklers — about 22 — would cost more than $1 million, while the housing authority receives just $10 million a year from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development for all 5,200 units of public housing SHA administers.

The Green Lake building housed low-income residents, but not all were elderly or disabled, Felton said.

13 Responses to “Apartment fire in east Green Lake: one fatality”

  1. NoraBell says:

    Very tragic, and as the daughter of someone who lives in that building a little bit scary.

  2. marcprindle says:

    While crossing the I-5 bridge, about a minute before the fire trucks arrived, I was struck by the gawkers pulled over on the bridge. One lady actually passed the building, did a U-turn (pedestrians were running everywhere, camera phones held aloft) and parked so she could get a good shot on her camera. I know it's not something you see everyday, but come on. Show a little dignity for yourself, and respect for those who are affected by the fire.

    Marc Prindle

  3. Neil Simmons says:

    marcprindle: I'm not sure how parking on the overpass to look disrespects those who were affected by the fire — driving right by without a pause is respectful? Even taking a photo — I keep my camera with me and document all sorts of things with it. If nobody took photos, you wouldn't have any to illustrate the story above. It would be different if someone was in a position to render aid, or stand by, and they chose to stand by — or take a photo of someone in distress.

  4. Is it even legal to park on the overpass? (I assume we're talking about NE 70th/71st Street.)

  5. marcprindle says:

    Gosh, Neil, I'd think that driving right by (as I did) meant that I wasn't in the way of any rescue attempts. I don't possess the tools to help those in the building, and my best guess is that the gawkers didn't, either. I glanced up. saw windows exploding out, and that was enough for me. I didn't require a souvenir to display to the blogosphere. Someone died in there today.

  6. That's the great article! I just pass 'n read it, two thumbs up! ;)

  7. That's the great article! I just pass 'n read it, two thumbs up! ;)