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Monday, August 02, 2004 - Page updated at 05:08 P.M.

Fires put Seattle on alert

By Jennifer Sullivan
Seattle Times staff reporter

Firefighters battle a fire early yesterday at the Roycroft condominiums under construction at North 61st Street and Phinney Avenue North. Damage was estimated at more than $3 million. The fire's cause has not been determined.
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Police will step up patrols in the North Seattle neighborhoods hit by a series of fires early yesterday that drew hundreds of people into the streets and stretched firefighters to their limits, officials said.

At least five of the seven blazes were intentionally set, Mayor Greg Nickels said.

The fires erupted between 11:57 p.m. Saturday and 5:51 a.m. yesterday from Lake City to Phinney Ridge. There were no injuries.

The fires were so overwhelming that Seattle called Bellevue, Kirkland and Shoreline fire departments for help.

Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said he will order increased patrols in the neighborhoods where the fires occurred, and Fire Chief Gregory Dean said firefighters were sent to every new-construction site in the city to make sure they were free of material that an arsonist could use.


At least four more suspicious fires were set last night and this morning, bringing the total for the entire weekend to 11.

Two garage fires were reported about 10:55 p.m. yesterday on the 6500 block of 10th Avenue Northwest and about 12:15 a.m. on the 5200 block of 17th Avenue Northeast. Both fires were intentionally set and caused an estimated $5,000 damage each, said Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick.

About 7:15 this morning, a suspicious fire scorched a two by five foot area of exterior siding at The Salvage Broker, a paper and office supplies shop at 13760 Aurora Ave. N. The owner, Fred Tenoll, believes the fire was intentionally set.

Also this morning, a piece of furniture was set on fire at a parking strip at 26th Avenue Northwest and Northwest 70th Street.

No injuries reported from any of these fires.

In the largest fire, hundreds of Phinney Ridge residents crowded into the 6100 block of Phinney Avenue North, near the Woodland Park Zoo, to gawk at and photograph the burning Roycroft condominium building, which was under construction. The cause of that fire has yet to be determined.

The heat charred neighboring homes, businesses and garages and melted the siding on a nearby apartment complex. Cars parked along Phinney also burned.

When Michelle McBride saw the condominium on fire across the street, she grabbed a garden hose, and her husband ran to wake the neighbors.

Lowell Rivitt, 73, was sleeping when he heard pounding on his front door. Dressed in pajamas, Rivitt joined his Phinney Ridge neighbors to watch 150-foot flames stretch out of the roof of the building.

Nickels, Dean and Kerlikowske gathered outside the still-smoldering Roycroft yesterday to meet with neighbors and ask that anyone with information about the fires call an arson hotline.

The causes of two of the fires — the Roycroft fire and a house fire in the University District — were not determined yesterday. But the other five fires were caused by someone torching combustibles lying around the properties.

Fire Department investigators inspect the scene of a house fire at Northeast 56th Street and Roosevelt Way Northeast.
Officials said it was too soon to say whether the fires were the work of the same person.

Nickels promised that authorities would "find them, and we will bring them to justice."

The seven fires came one week after a fire caused $2.75 million damage to an apartment building being built in the Wallingford neighborhood. Officials said there is no evidence that fire is connected to the latest blazes.

Also yesterday, police in Everett were investigating an arson that extensively damaged two apartment units on Wetmore Avenue. No one was hurt, and police said they don't know whether the fire was related to the Seattle arsons.

The first Seattle fire started just before midnight Saturday in the University District. Jeff Raynor, Aaron Rose and Naomi Vaughan were hanging out at the rental home in the 5600 block of Roosevelt Way Northeast when the house caught fire.

Vaughan, 18, and Rose, 21, escaped by jumping off the 12-foot roof. Raynor, 21, grabbed two guitars, an amplifier, a microphone stand and Vaughan's bag from the burning porch and escaped out a basement window. None of the three was injured.

The Roycroft condos went up in flames just before 1 a.m. "I looked out the window and the whole top floor [of the condominium] was engulfed in flames," said neighbor Dorothy Westling.

Firefighters asked Westling, McBride and other neighbors to use garden hoses to soak their homes and yards.

About an hour later, fires started breaking out near and along Lake City Way Northeast.

A garage fire was reported at 7540 20th Ave. N.E. at 2:19 a.m. About 20 minutes later, a fence was on fire at Bill Pierre Ford on Lake City Way.

About six minutes after that, Cafe Long, a Vietnamese restaurant in the heart of the Lake City business district, went up in flames, followed by smaller blazes at construction sites nearby.

"I'm pretty sad," said Kong Van, the owner of Cafe Long, as he and his wife, Tam, surveyed the remains of their family business yesterday.

"We have only been here a year and a half."

Saturday night and Sunday morning blazes

1. 11:57 p.m. Saturday, Northeast 56th Street and Roosevelt Way Northeast. House fire spread to house next door. Cause not yet determined.

2. 12:49 a.m. yesterday, North 61st Street and Phinney Avenue North. Roycroft condominium complex (under construction). Builder estimated damage at $3 million at least. Cars and structures around the building also damaged. Cause not yet determined.

3. 2:19 a.m. yesterday, 7540 20th Ave. N.E. Garage fire causes about $20,000 damage. Arson.

4. 2:37 a.m. yesterday, 120th Street Northeast and Lake City Way Northeast. About $30,000 damage to fence at Bill Pierre Ford. Arson.

5. 2:43 a.m. yesterday, 12511 Lake City Way Northeast. About $200,000 damage to Cafe Long. Arson.

6. 2:48 a.m. yesterday, Northeast 130th Street and 30th Avenue Northeast. Apartments under construction set on fire, no damage. Arson.

7. 5:51 a.m. yesterday, 12th Avenue Northeast and Lake City Way Northeast. About $2,000 damage to apartments under construction. Arson

Anyone with information is asked to call 800-55-ARSON.

Source: Seattle Fire Department

Van said he has insurance but hasn't decided whether to rebuild.

Four doors down, at Cadillac Jack's tavern, bartender Lindsay Findley said that when a barkeep went home about 2:45 a.m., the Cafe Long fire hadn't started. But when another bartender left at 3 a.m., flames were pouring from the building.

At the Roycroft project on Phinney Ridge, construction manager Jim Bender said there was no question his company would rebuild.

Fire investigators didn't have a damage estimate for the condominium blaze, but Bender said damage would exceed $3 million.

The company has insurance.

Before the fire, crews had hoped to have a working sprinkler system installed in two weeks at the 34-unit complex.

"It's another bump in the road," said Bender, who works for the Pryde Corp.

Dora Carelli, who had been selling units in the building for Urban Marketing Group, said 23 of the units had been sold. Carelli, who bought one of the units herself, said there was nothing inside the building that could have caused a fire on its own.

She vowed not to be deterred from having a new home on Phinney Ridge.

"It's America," Carelli said. "You can burn it down 10 times, we'll keep rebuilding it."

Jennifer Sullivan: 425-783-0604 or

Seattle Times staff reporter Brandon Sprague contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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