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Two homes lost to South Hill blaze

Third house damaged but no injuries reported from fast-moving fire

John Alfred didn’t hear the explosion before a fire ripped through three homes on the South Hill on Thursday, but he felt it.

“I couldn’t figure out what the heck it was,” he said.

Alfred, who lives across the street from the homes, is deaf, but he pointed to his chest, saying he felt four explosions at about 3:30 p.m. Alfred ran outside and watched as flames crept up the side of the house on 19th Avenue and Sherman Street and black smoke soared high into the air.

The Spokane Fire Department hasn’t identified the cause of a blaze that left two homes destroyed and one damaged. At least two cars were also burned.

One person inside the home on 518 E 19th Ave., where the fire started, left without being injured, Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said. No one was inside the neighboring homes that burned.

Fire response on the South Hill has been a point of controversy in recent months, as Fire Station No. 9 has reduced its resources and its rescue crew can no longer enter burning buildings in the area.

Schaeffer said the Fire Department’s response time wasn’t affected by Station No. 9’s reduced crew: Engine No. 1 arrived within four minutes of the original call.

However, Schaeffer said, the first responders could already see the smoke by the time they left Fire Station No. 1 downtown.

“We do know that it had a huge head start on us,” he said.

By the time crews arrived, they had to focus their resources on saving the neighboring homes, Schaeffer said. The three homes were close together and the fire was moving uphill, he said.

“The fire was making a very hard push up to (the third home),” he said. Two of the homes were destroyed, and the third was heavily damaged.

Nathanael Verbarg lives nearby and was driving home when he saw the plume of black smoke rising in the air. Verbarg drove by shortly before fire crews arrived, he said.

“With as big and fast as they go up and the firefighters aren’t here, you never know where that’s going to jump to,” he said.