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Timeline: Anatomy of a three-alarm fire

Spokane Fire Department personnel ask spectators to describe what they saw  during the three-alarm fire. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Fire Department personnel ask spectators to describe what they saw during the three-alarm fire. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

A call firefighters thought was a simple Dumpster fire at 4:30 a.m. grew into a three-alarm blaze within an hour, filling downtown Spokane with smoke.

“It just had too much of a head start,” said David Leavenworth, deputy chief at the Spokane Fire Department.

Authorities could not remember the last time there was a three-alarm fire downtown.

4:30 a.m.: Fire crews are called to 161 S. Post St. on a report of a Dumpster fire. When the smoke seems too abundant, firefighters pull out the Dumpster and find flames lapping up the brick wall from the basement of Dorian photography studio.

5:30 a.m.: Blaze is upgraded to three-alarm, and almost every city firefighter is called to the Joel building, where the photo studio is housed. Smoke fills downtown. Traffic is blocked on Post and Wall between First and Second avenues.

7 a.m.: Firefighters dousing the blaze in the basement are told to evacuate because flames have flared up on the first floor, and large objects are falling through the floor.

8 a.m.: Spokane Fire Department asks for assistance from Spokane County and neighboring fire agencies.

8:30 a.m.: Owner of Churchill’s Steakhouse is in tears as he watches flames and smoke pour from the building.

10:35 a.m.: Residents are urged to limit their exposure to the smoke, even low levels. “The fire burning in the downtown Spokane area may be cause for concern for people in the immediate area and for those who are sensitive to smoke. Smoke’s greatest threat is to the very young, the elderly and those with heart and lung conditions such as asthma or heart disease,” says Julie Graham, spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Health District.

11 a.m.: Fire spokesman Bill Clifford says the fire is still burning inside the building and is not contained. Crews are dumping water on it and plan to be there “quite a bit longer.” They will investigate the cause later. “When a fire burns in a building like this and we lose floors – or the roof like this one here the fire has burned through – we have to watch out for the structure itself on collapse,” Clifford said.

11:20 a.m.: Injured firefighter Shawn Pool, released from the hospital, returns to the scene on crutches to check on his co-workers.

11:25 a.m.: City officials say firefighters are expected to be at the fire scene throughout the day.

11:30 a.m.: Firefighters turn off the water streams being shot from above to reassess the fire. Smoke is pouring out of the building, making it difficult for firefighters to assess which areas are still ablaze.

12:21: In 30 years as a developer, Joel building condo developer Ron Wells says, he has never had a building destroyed by fire.

2:30 p.m.: Officials announce that the basement and first floor have been destroyed in the Dorian photo studio, and that the second and third floors are significantly damaged, but that the fire was mostly contained to Dorian. Neighboring businesses sustained mostly smoke and water damage.

3:25 p.m.: Firefighters go back into building to inspect the fire and run across several small blazes.

4:10 p.m.: Water collapses the ceiling in the rear of Churchill’s Steakhouse; fire inches into other parts of building. Foam is used to help douse blaze.

6 p.m.: Fire crews start to pack up and go home. Mop-up efforts begin.

8 p.m.: Two engines remain on the scene. Crews expect to go to one engine by 11 p.m., which will stay on scene all night.


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