Fourteen residents were burned out of their homes Friday after flames destroyed a north Spokane apartment building.
Witnesses said they saw a man leave the area with a lighter and lighter fluid.
Although Spokane officials haven’t declared the fire an arson, they have said that the unknown man is a “person of interest.” The fire remains under investigation, said Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer.
Four firefighters were hurt in the blaze at 2824 E. Everett Ave., including one taken to Deaconess Medical Center to be treated for heat exhaustion, Schaeffer said. The other three were treated at the scene after being hit in the head by falling debris.
No residents were hurt, although it was a close call for at least one third-floor resident, fire officials said.
A passer-by saw the young woman yelling from her window on the southwest corner of the building, witnesses told firefighters. As the building burned, the passer-by leaned a ladder against an exterior wall and helped her crawl down.
Spokane resident Denny Vaughn heard about the fire and rushed to the apartment complex, where his son and son’s fiancé live with their infant daughter. His son, Justin Vaughn, was out of town, but the rest of the family were home when the fire started.
“My heart about stopped a couple times on the way over here,” Vaughn said. He found 7-month-old Jaela Vaughn and her mother, Jayleen Farata, safe but shaken.
Farata, who had an apartment on the third floor, was in a basement unit when the blaze began. She said she didn’t know what was happening until another resident came running, shouting that the place was on fire.
“I went up and saw my door covered in black smoke and flames,” Farata said. “That’s when I started yelling and calling 911.”
Jaela Vaughn is the only child who lived in the complex, Red Cross officials said.
When firefighters arrived about 12:30 p.m., the top story was engulfed in flames, Schaeffer said. Firefighters entered the nine-unit complex to confirm that all the residents were out.
Flames destroyed the third-story apartments while water, heat and smoke damaged the second floor. The entire structure was deemed dangerous and unlivable, Schaeffer said.
According to county records, the complex was built in 1972.
Displaced residents were being assisted, said Pat Moseley, executive director for the Inland Northwest Chapter of the Red Cross.
Of the 14 residents, only one needed help with housing. The rest are staying with friends or relatives, she said. The Red Cross is helping others with replacement medications, clothing and food.
“This is our fourth apartment fire since July 1,” Moseley said. “It’s been busy.”
Schaeffer said the increase in fires recently is normal for this time of year.
“Kids are out of school. People have more time on their hands,” he said. “It’s a normal cycle. We usually see an increase during summer.”
Spokane authorities continue searching for the man seen leaving the scene following the blaze. He’s described as 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, Schaeffer said. He was wearing a green or blue sleeveless shirt and jean shorts.