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Originally published Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 5:21 PM

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1 house destroyed, 2 damaged in suspicious Queen Anne garage fire

A fire that roared through Lower Queen Anne homes was set in a junk-filled garage, and police are investigating whether arson was involved.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The old garage that stood behind a Lower Queen Anne duplex had been an eyesore for years: The sagging roof was covered in shredded plastic and the structure, which leaned to one side, was packed with lumber, trash and a dry, withered Christmas tree, according to neighbors.

It burned to the ground Monday night in a suspicious fire that destroyed an adjacent house and scorched two others.

While police aren’t ready to declare the fire an arson, the Seattle Fire Department has concluded the blaze was no accident.

“Arson is something the police will determine because it goes to motive and intent,” said Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore. “But it was definitely ... a set fire. Someone obviously started it.”

Two people suffered minor injuries, but the 10 residents of the three houses were all able to get out before firefighters arrived, he said.

There was no door on the garage, which faced an alley behind the houses on Warren Avenue North.

“Anyone had access to it,” Moore said. “It was piled with combustibles ... so anything thrown in there could ignite it,” such as a match or a lit cigarette.

The fire burned hot and fast.

Neighbors called 911 at 8:23 p.m. Monday, reporting flames coming from the detached garage, Moore said. The first engine arrived four minutes later, and “within 30 seconds” those firefighters reported that the blaze had spread to the house, a duplex built in 1909 at 718 Warren Ave. N., according to Moore and King County property records.

“One minute later, they said they have two more houses on fire,” Moore said.

The house to the north was also built in 1909, and the one to the south, in 1924, according to property records.

It took an hour and a half for more than 70 firefighters to extinguish the flames, then hours more to “overhaul” the properties, cutting out the walls, attics and joists to keep the fire from reigniting, Moore said.

The house with the garage where the fire started is a total teardown, with an initial damage estimate of $500,000, Moore said. The houses to either side suffered an estimated $30,000 in damage each. Damage to the contents of the three properties was estimated at $55,000, he said.

The Seattle Police Department’s Arson and Bomb Squad is investigating, police spokeswoman Renee Witt said.

“It doesn’t appear to be accidental,” she said. “We don’t know if someone walked by and dropped a cigarette or something. We’re looking for witnesses or anyone who would have been in the area.”

Gina Axe, a resident of the triplex north of the house where the fire started, was at work at the Ballard Safeway when one of her roommates called her to say their house was on fire.

“When I got here, it was fully engulfed. The flames were 30, 40 feet above the houses,” she said.

Her unit was filled with smoke, and her balcony was destroyed. The Red Cross got motel rooms for Axe and some of the other displaced residents, she said.

“We’ve been complaining about that garage for a long time, for years,” Axe said of the shed where the fire started. “It was just a huge eyesore. Nobody ever used it.”

A message left for the owners of the house where the fire started was not returned Tuesday.

Two people suffered minor injuries: One man hurt his ankle running out of his burning home. The other injury, Moore said, happened after a patron at a nearby bar left “to run up the street to fight the fire.” He injured his hands, although not enough to require medical attention.

Tim Shields, a copywriter for a marketing company, rented the lower duplex unit in the house that was destroyed.

An avid diary-keeper who had chronicled his life since age 17 in 1991, he had filled more than 45 diaries that were destroyed in the blaze.

Times reporter Erik Lacitis and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.co

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