PULLMAN — Fire investigators Sunday pored over the ruins of four unoccupied apartment buildings demolished in what officials say was a suspicious blaze.
The early-morning fire Sunday destroyed half of the 584-bed Grove apartment complex that was under construction and set to be filled this fall with Washington State University students.
About 40 firefighters from Pullman and neighboring communities battled the flames for two hours before sunrise. No injuries were reported, and an estimated value of loss is not yet available.
Investigators will try to determine if the fire is related to a string of unsolved arsons on the WSU campus in spring 2012, said Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson, the fire department spokesman.
The three-story apartment buildings on the north end of Pullman are owned by Campus Crest Communities Inc., a North Carolina-based company that develops and operates student housing in 27 states and has similar apartment buildings in Cheney and Moscow, Idaho.
The Pullman project, with two-bedroom and three-bedroom plans, was scheduled to open Aug. 17, two days before classes begin. The Grove advertised fully furnished apartments along with a clubhouse, game rooms, fitness center, tanning booths, swimming pool, volleyball and basketball courts, and grills and fire pits.
The scores of apartment units destroyed in the fire already had tenants lined up, Johnson said, meaning hundreds of students could be left scrambling to find other housing in coming weeks.
In a statement Sunday, Campus Crest said it is cooperating with investigators and will keep the work site closed until the investigation is complete.
“We are currently working to determine how this event will affect residents who signed leases and plan to communicate those details shortly,” the company added.
Contractors building the apartments left the work site just off Terre View Drive around 10 p.m. Saturday, and the three-alarm fire was first reported to 911 at 3:16 a.m. Sunday, Johnson said. The fire apparently started in the middle complex and spread to three other units in various stages of construction, officials said.
Firefighters saved the other four apartment buildings under construction and protected occupied apartment buildings to the east and south, Johnson said.
The neighboring Boulder Creek apartment complex and WSU’s Steptoe Village complex were evacuated. Heat from the 100-foot-tall flames melted vinyl siding on several buildings in both complexes, cracked windows at a research park roughly 200 yards away and melted a street sign, he said.
Fire Chief Mike Heston assigned investigators from Pullman’s police and fire departments and WSU police to investigate the fire. There was no heat source in the apartments that could have set it off, Heston said.
Diesel fuel and gasoline in construction vehicles exploded, and a front loader, bulldozers and a backhoe were damaged, as were several vehicles parked near the rear of the main complex.
Four intentionally set fires on the WSU campus between May 22 and June 5, 2012, were never solved. Those fires destroyed two community centers in university-owned apartments and ruined lab equipment in McCoy Hall.