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Blaze leaves 16 homeless

Sun., June 16, 2013, midnight

Sinto Apartments fire began in or near Geno’s restaurant

Crystal Parmer didn’t panic about the fire tearing her home apart. At least, not at first.

As flames engulfed the Sinto Apartments on 907 E. Sinto Ave. in Spokane on Saturday, Parmer grabbed her dog and her 13-year-old neighbor and ran. It wasn’t until she heard the glass exploding from her bedroom windows a few minutes later that the realization sank in.

“As the windows were breaking I was thinking, ‘Great, all my stuff,’ ” Parmer said, watching from across the street as smoke poured from her home. She shook, her eyes swollen with tears, clutching her dog, Samantha, close to her chest.

“That’s everything. Everything gone.”

Sixteen people were left without a home Saturday afternoon after a three-alarm fire ripped through Geno’s restaurant and a nearby apartment complex near Gonzaga University.

The blaze began shortly after 4 p.m, Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams said. The fire began in or near Geno’s, spreading into the kitchen then jumping to the apartment building. There are conflicting reports on how the blaze started, and investigators say it will likely take a day or two to determine the cause.

SNAP owns and operates the apartments as low-income transitional homes. Red Cross and SNAP volunteers worked with victims to find housing, food and medical assistance. Fourteen adults and two children were displaced.

Customers at the restaurant and residents of the apartment had evacuated before Spokane Fire Department crews arrived, Williams said. It did not appear that anyone was injured.

Responding to fires of this size at multifamily apartment buildings is always a challenge, Williams said. Crews had to move water across busy streets, shut down traffic and ensure no one was in the building before extinguishing the fire.

“That delays being able to do anything else,” Williams said. “It delays being able to open the roof and put water on that fire.”

The flames had already reached the attic by the time they began putting out the fire.

The fire was mostly out shortly after 6 p.m. as crews continued to battle smaller fires inside the apartments. The eight-unit complex will likely be uninhabitable for some time, Williams said, and at least six units on the north end were damaged significantly.

About 15 of Spokane Fire Department’s 18 units responded to the blaze, relying on neighboring departments to respond to other fires and medical calls in the area, said Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer.

“One incident wipes out all our resources,” Schaeffer said.

The department hasn’t responded to an incident of this size since the four-alarm fire that destroyed most of a 12-unit apartment complex on the 700 block of South Lincoln Street in September, Schaeffer said.

Mark Baier, owner of Geno’s, said only the restaurant’s kitchen was damaged. The flames did little damage to the newly remodeled section of the restaurant, which Baier completed about a year and a half ago.

Joe Barsh, a Gonzaga student who was at the restaurant when the fire started, said there were only a handful of people in the restaurant when it was evacuated.

When Barsh saw the fire spreading to the adjacent apartments, he and friends helped evacuate people from the building.

“I feel bad for these people,” Barsh said. “They really lost a lot of stuff.”

As Parmer waited to hear where she’d be spending the night, still not sure how much she’d lost, neighbors approached her with dog food for Samantha and water for both. Parmer didn’t know them before the fire started.

“They’re just great people,” she said.

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