Residents of an apartment complex in the 6500 block of North Atlantic Street in Spokane stood across the street and watched their homes burn Saturday afternoon. Many of them were children, and a few people had no shoes on.
Assistant manager Harold Anien lived in a downstairs apartment of the 10-unit complex with his family, which includes four children. “I was in my apartment,” he said. “Kids were yelling and screaming. I ran everywhere to make sure everybody was out.”
He had just done some major grocery shopping and wondered if any of it would be salvageable. He gestured to the clothes he was wearing. “This is all I have,” he said.
Some residents said the fire started in a closet in an upstairs unit. One man apparently tried to put the flames out with a fire extinguisher. “It was just clothes in the closet,” Sharon Quarles said. “It wouldn’t go out. It just got bigger and bigger.”
Occasionally, huge clouds of thick, acrid smoke swept across the displaced residents, eventually driving them around the corner when it got so thick the firefighters and their trucks seemed to be swallowed up.
Crews from Spokane County Fire District 9 and Spokane Fire Department responded to the two-alarm blaze. “It got up in the attic,” District 9 Assistant Chief Doug Bleeker said. “We got a little wind there.”
Firefighters were also hampered by difficulties gaining access to the attic from inside the apartments. “Before we can get to the ceiling, we have to pull stuff out of the apartments,” he said. “It has been a challenging fire.”
The five top-floor apartments were heavily damaged. The fire only extended to one downstairs unit, but the others were damaged by smoke and the water used to fight the fire, Bleeker said.
The cause of the fire won’t be known until investigators can get inside, Bleeker said.
The Red Cross responded to assist the residents and opened a temporary shelter for them at the Spokane Friends Church, 1612 W. Dalke Ave. The agency will help them find clothing, food and housing. Donations to assist the families can be made at www.redcross.org/donate or at 315 W. Nora Ave. from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.