July 2, 2009 in City

Fire season heats up fast

One blaze leaves weekend weddings in pinch
By The Spokesman-Review
 
CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON photo

T & R Party and Event Rentals, on East Francis Avenue in Spokane, burns as firefighters try to control the flames Wednesday.chrisa@spokesman.com
(Full-size photo)

After 20 years in business, Patricia Bradley stood devastated outside her building on East Francis Avenue on Wednesday night as flames reduced it to a shell.

But it wasn’t the $450,000 loss that weighed on Bradley’s mind.

It is the 50 or 60 brides left in the lurch for weddings this weekend, counting on T & R Party and Event Rentals for linens, tables, chairs, wine glasses, dinnerware and decorations. All but a few tables and chairs were destroyed in the fire, including a 72-color linen collection known as the largest in the Inland Northwest.

“We know every rental company in Spokane. I know they will stand behind me,” Bradley said. “We will get these brides taken care of.”

The city’s fire season began with a bang Wednesday, as crews raced from one North Side blaze to another throughout the afternoon.

Ninety minutes before Bradley’s building at 1723 E. Francis Ave. caught fire, crews had contained the first major brush fire of the summer, about a mile north of T & R.

Then, shortly after 10 p.m., crews responded to a duplex on fire at 6918 N. Normandie St., a couple of miles west of T & R. Both homes were engulfed by flames and suffered significant damage. No one was home when the fire started.

“It’s only the first of July,” said Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Robert Christilaw at the scene of the Normandie blaze. “How’s it going to go the rest of the season?”

The first crews to arrive at T & R had to come from the South Hill and from Spokane County Fire District 8 near 57th Avenue and Palouse Highway, because resources were spread thin from an earlier wildfire, said Spokane Fire Department Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer.

The wildfire started about 4 p.m. in a field between Nevada and Crestline streets, north of Lincoln road, and burned about 25 acres.

The fire was first reported as a 15-by-15-foot blaze burning in some trash and brush, but winds of about 10 mph pushed the blaze into the trees, sending up flames and black smoke. “The wind just carried it,” Schaeffer said. Spokane firefighters and crews from Spokane County Fire District 9 worked to extinguish the fire, which originated in the city but spread into the county to the east, Schaeffer said.

Several law enforcement agencies stood ready to evacuate large apartment complexes to the west and south of the fire, if the wind shifted, Schaeffer said.

Officers also scrambled to control traffic at both fires. Onlookers clogged up the streets around the T & R fire and the brush fire.

Lincoln Road was littered with cars as people pulled over to watch trees explode about 300 feet away during the brush fire. Side streets in the area around the structure fire were impassable.

“Like a moth to a flame,” said Spokane police Officer Shane Oien.

All three fires are under investigation, but Schaeffer acknowledged there was some suspicious activity reported around the brush fire.

One man, who only identified himself as Joe, said squatters live in a wooded area behind his employer, Douglass Properties.

Schaeffer said developer Lanzce Douglass, son of Spokane developer Harlan Douglass, initially helped fight the blaze by digging trenches with about 20 other civilians to keep the fire from spreading.

Bradley said her building fire likely was caused by an electrical problem.

Wednesday’s high temperature of 83 degrees, and a relative humidity of about 16 percent, made fire conditions dangerous, Schaeffer said. Fire crews are bracing for the July Fourth weekend, typically the busiest for fire crews.

Firefighters were expected to work through the night mopping up the brush fire and spent several hours cleaning up the fire on East Francis Avenue.


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