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Microwaved towels blamed for two house fires

The building at  108 S. Dartmouth Road, the old Village Squire Tavern, burned on July 24. The building has been vacant for several years.
The building at 108 S. Dartmouth Road, the old Village Squire Tavern, burned on July 24. The building has been vacant for several years.

In a strange twist Spokane Valley Fire Department crews responded to two house fires within hours of each other that both started with someone microwaving a towel to use as a hot pack.

The first fire was called in at 10:23 p.m. on July 27 in the 16900 block of East Valley Ridge Lane. “When they pulled the towel out, it was smoking,” said assistant fire marshal Bill Clifford. The elderly couple living there removed it and called for help. “Really there was not a lot of damage done.”

It was a different story at 4:12 a.m. the next day in the 14600 block of East Main. The previous evening a man had tried to heat the towel but threw it outside on his deck when it “smelled funny.” “That rag sat there and smoldered until it reached the wood on the deck,” Clifford said. The flames spread to the siding and crawled into the attic, causing between $70,000 and $80,000 in damage. “To have two of the same type of fire within six hours is kind of a strange thing.”

Clifford said the department did a little experimenting trying to recreate the circumstances. Wet towels just steamed and dried out, he said. Then they tried putting in a dry towel for two and a half minutes. It came out seemingly just warm to the touch, but appearances can be deceiving. “The inside of that towel was all charred,” Clifford said. “When we put it on the ground for a while it just burst into flames.”

The day of July 24 was busy with three reported fires. The first at 3:46 a.m. at the vacant Village Squire Tavern building at 108 S. Dartmouth Road was called in by a carrier for The Spokesman-Review. An investigation has determined that the fire began in the northwest part of the building but the cause it not yet known, Clifford said. The building, which was a total loss, had been vacant for several years and police have responded to calls of people inside the building several times, he said.

“Some of the doors had been forced open before,” he said. “There were clues that someone had been staying there. It was unknown if someone was in there at the time of the fire.”

At 2:26 p.m. fire crews were called to the 9600 block of East Broadway. Someone apparently tried to put out a cigarette in a flower pot, which caught fire. A passer-by put out the flames with a garden hose. People should be aware that potting soil is very flammable and avoid using it to put out cigarettes, Clifford said. “It’s not dirt,” he said. “It’s not going to extinguish it.”

The third fire of the day was reported at 11:06 p.m. at 420 S. Carnahan Road. The homeowner noticed a fire in her basement and tried unsuccessfully to put it out by putting a garden hose through the window. An investigation into the cause of the fire is not yet complete, Clifford said.

Other reported fires during the week of July 22-28 included two car fires, a boat fire, a campfire near the Centennial Trail and a brush fire reported at 5:40 p.m. on July 26 in the 2500 block of South Sonora Drive. When firefighters arrived the fire was 100 feet by 100 feet in size and had spread to some trees, Clifford said. The Department of Natural Resources was called in for assistance. The fire was extinguished but crews were called back to the same area the next day after it apparently sparked back up again. The fire is under investigation and may have been deliberately set, Clifford said.

A man called 911 during the week to report that he had been bitten by a rattlesnake while walking in a brushy area behind the Eagle Rock Apartments at 12423 E. Mansfield. He reported that he stepped into a hole and felt a bite on the inner side of his right ankle. Fang marks could be seen, Clifford said. He was taken to the hospital for treatment.

The department’s water rescue team was called to the Mirabeau Trailhead near the YMCA on a report of an empty raft on July 24. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office was able to locate the man who had been in the raft, Clifford said. “No rescue was needed.”

Other calls included a broken water line, a 2-year-old locked inside a car, another 2-year-old locked inside an apartment and people stuck in an elevator at 12509 E. Mission Ave. on July 29. People in the building heard calls for help and discovered the elevator stuck between the first and second floors, Clifford said. Fire crews provided water to the two people and one dog stuck inside until the elevator was repaired.