A north Spokane office fire forced several firefighters to evacuate the building quickly Friday afternoon when the blaze turned from mild-mannered to explosive in less than two minutes.
None of the Spokane firefighters who left the building were injured, but two firefighters later were taken to hospitals for what Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams said were “minor” injuries.
The blaze started inside the Mayfair Professional Building, 5901 N. Mayfair, several blocks north of Providence Holy Family Hospital.
When fire crews arrived at 4:20 p.m., they found drifting white smoke coming from the west side of the two-story building.
Teams of firefighters entered the building and began searching the first floor and basement, where most of the smoke was concentrated, Williams said.
Tearing off ceiling and wall panels, they spent about 20 minutes inside the building without finding the source of the fire, Williams said.
“Most of the smoke was coming from the outside wall,” Williams said, “and at one point, the smoke even lightened.”
Smoke coming from the west wall then quickly turned dark black and poured from the building in large puffs, the result of a spike in internal pressure, according to Williams.
At that point incident commanders ordered the building evacuated, realizing circumstances had shifted.
Within two minutes the entire west wall erupted into 40-foot-high flames. The blaze consumed the west wall and spread to the north-facing wall of the office building.
“With the kind of lightweight building construction we had here, there was the danger of sudden collapse of the (first) floor,” Williams said.
The fire drew 15 of the city’s 18 fire units. That was done to ensure none of the firefighters on the scene suffered heat exhaustion while fighting the fire, Williams said.
Cause of the fire was not yet identified.
Dr. Steven Waite, who operated a dental practice in the west half of the second floor, called in the fire report around 4:15 p.m.
“When I looked out the window and saw smoke, it was scary,” he said. At that point, he couldn’t be sure where the smoke was coming from, he said.
He and his wife Jan, his receptionist, were apparently the only occupants at the time. Two other businesses – a physical rehabilitation clinic and another dentist – had closed earlier in the day.
The Waites left the building and stood outside, joining dozens of spectators watching fire crews setting up their equipment and calling for backup.
Once the fire burned a hole through the roof, firefighters poured heavy streams of water on the building.
Williams said crews learned from the Waites that the east end of the second floor contained tanks of oxygen and nitrous oxide, which could ignite and endanger crews.