Fire investigators this afternoon were poring through the rubble of a morning fire today in an oral surgery office on East Mission Avenue in Spokane Valley. The fire appeared to have started in a room containing tanks of oxygen and nitrous oxide, said Assistant Fire Marshal Bill Clifford.
Officials reported that no one was hurt, despite a powerful blast that sent glass and debris flying across a parking lot and apparently dislodged a large chunk of concrete from the side of the building.
The fire began about 7 a.m. in the office of Drs. Kenji Higuchi and Daniel Skinner on the first floor of the Valley Mission Professional Building, 12509 E. Mission Ave., and 911 initially received a report of light smoke seen in the building.
Within minutes, an AMR ambulance crew dropping off a patient at the hospital, located directly across Mission Avenue from the office building, reported an explosion accompanying the fire.
“We had glass blowing out of the front and both sides” of the building, Clifford said.
One employee was inside the dental office when the fire started, but said there was no smell of smoke prior to the sudden explosion, Clifford said. That employee got out without injury, he said.
“All of a sudden we had a fire and explosion,” Clifford said.
If the fire had occurred 30 minutes later, there might have been a half dozen employees inside, he said, and injuries might have occurred.
By afternoon, investigators were attempting to pinpoint the cause. The fire started in a room that held the oxygen and nitrous oxide tanks, Clifford said, describing the scene as “total destruction.”
Nitrous oxide in tanks, commonly used in dental practice for anesthesia, can explode when exposed to extreme heat.
Clifford said it is not clear whether the fire started prior to the explosion.
On the east side of the building, a large chunk of concrete fell to the ground.
The two-story building also houses a pharmacy, obstetrics and gynecology, and other medical professionals. All of those offices had to be vacated, and it was unclear when they could reopen. Damage from the fire was largely confined to the oral surgery office. The rest of the building has substantial smoke damage, Clifford said.
Firefighters retrieved the computer system of the oral surgery office and patients were being contacted about rescheduling appointments. The other offices apparently still had their computer files, too.
Several patients arrived for appointments during the fire and had to be turned away, Clifford said.
An employee of the oral surgery practice said that efforts were underway to locate temporary office space quickly to continue treating patients. The office phone number was transferred to another telephone and is being answered. The employee said that patients will be contacted in the next few days about rescheduling appointments.
Clifford said that a structural engineer will be needed to examine the soundness of the building, but he said it appeared that the building could be cleaned and repaired.
Spokane Valley firefighters were assisted by units from Spokane County Fire Districts 8 and 9 and the Spokane Fire Department. More than 10 fire trucks were sent to the scene, and Mission was closed.
Firefighters initially attacked the fire from the exterior, spraying water into broken-out windows. Once the fire was knocked down, then crews entered the building to take on hot spots.
It took about an hour to bring the fire under control.