September 26, 2012 in City

Raging apartment fire displaces 24 residents

Chief: Blaze at 12-unit complex city’s largest in ‘some time’
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Picture story: South Hill apartment fire
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Facing a geyser of flames, a Spokane firefighter heads to an apartment building’s roof on South Lincoln Street on Tuesday.
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Map of this story's location

Andrea Glass was on her way home for a quick change of clothes when she saw the smoke pouring from her roof on the South Hill.

“I was like, ‘Oh no, that looks like our apartment,’ ” the 24-year-old said.

She called her sister, 18-year-old Rachele Carnell, who moved in with her this summer, and told her their home was on fire.

“She thought I was kidding,” Glass said. “I said, ‘No, turn around and get here.’ ”

It was a bit of déjà vu for the college students, who have spent the last month helping their grandmother recover after the Taylor Bridge wildfire destroyed her entire farm in Central Washington.

Now they are the ones out of a home.

Flames destroyed much of the 12-unit apartment complex in the 700 block of South Lincoln Street on Tuesday afternoon, forcing the building’s estimated 24 residents to evacuate.

No injuries were reported in the 4 p.m. blaze, but firefighters struggled to get an upper hand as flames shot more than 25 feet above the roof. The building is located on a steep slope, which made firefighting more difficult.

“The biggest thing was the head start of the fire in the attic,” said Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams.

The west end of the building is heavily damaged, and arrangements were being made to find alternative accommodations for residents.

The owner of the complex, Gordon Sombrowski, also owns the Mirabeau Park Hotel. Sombrowski planned to offer alternative housing or rooms at the hotel to the displaced residents, he told Spokane Fire Department officials. The Red Cross was also on hand to assist residents Tuesday night.

Sarah Kriehn, 27, a resident on the east side of the building, said she was home when the fire started, and she saw smoke outside her window. She called 911, and she and another person “knocked on all the doors and got everybody out.”

Williams said the cause and location where the fire started were still under investigation.

Hundreds of onlookers watched firefighters battle the flames, which had to be done from the ground because of the steep slope of the hill.

Crews made a trench into the middle of the building to stop the spread of the fire, but the first priority was to make sure the building was evacuated, Williams said.

“Once we were sure everybody was out, we could get to the firefighting,” he said, adding that it was the equivalent of a four-alarm fire.

Fifty to 75 firefighters from Spokane, Spokane Valley and Spokane County Fire District No. 9 assisted.

Williams said it was the largest blaze in the city in “some time.”

All the apartments sustained some damage, he said. On the second floor, with the exception of the two apartments on the west end, the fire was mostly contained to the attic. Fire crews had to pull down ceilings in the upstairs apartments to get water onto the flames.

Apartments on the east side and the first floor mostly sustained smoke and water damage, Williams said.

Most residents were able to enter their units Tuesday evening, he said, in order to grab belongings and take a quick look at what was left.

No residents or firefighters were injured, “which is really something to say for a fire of this magnitude,” Williams said.

The fire briefly snarled traffic on Monroe and Lincoln streets during rush hour, and secondary streets surrounding the three-alarm blaze were closed. Some vehicles were towed to a nearby parking lot to make room for fire trucks.

Williams said crews would be at the complex through the night.

Residents in a nearby South Hill complex were alerted about the fire. Tiffany Tomes was at a store when she got the call.

“I rushed home,” she said. “I took my little ones over to see why we don’t play with fire.”

She has two sons, ages 7 and 3. “Fire … now blow up,” the youngest said.

Tomes decided to get to work on fliers asking the community to help those who’d suffered losses in the fire.

“I think it would be good for us to help out,” Tomes said.

Others in the neighborhood had the same idea.

Jessica Rising, who just moved into a house three doors down with her husband and five children, was offering her house to anyone from the burned building who needed a place to go.

She said she watched the fire from an upstairs bedroom window, hoping the blaze wouldn’t get close enough to jeopardize her family’s dream home.

“I was sitting here yelling at the fire, ‘You are not going to ruin my dream!’ ” Rising said. “That’s when I realized there were people it just did that to. So that’s why I offered.”

Staff writer Jody Lawrence-Turner contributed to this report.

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