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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Firefighters give motel a hot send-off

Firefighters from Spokane County District 10 attack a practice fire at the Skyline Motel on Saturday morning. 
 (Holly Pickett / The Spokesman-Review)
Firefighters from Spokane County District 10 attack a practice fire at the Skyline Motel on Saturday morning. (Holly Pickett / The Spokesman-Review)

A fire swept through an abandoned motel owned by Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities on Saturday morning, and nobody seemed to mind.

In fact, the fire turning the old Skyline Motel just west of Spokane into rubble was carefully planned, lit and extinguished by members of the Spokane County Fire District as a training exercise.

This odd arrangement began last year when the motel’s former owner defaulted on a Metropolitan loan. The motel, located along South Geiger Boulevard near the Group Health clinic and the Holiday Inn, had become a derelict property frequented by transients.

Two fires, probably the result of small fires set to stay warm, had destroyed two of the motel’s four main buildings. Doors to rooms had been kicked in. A look around the property before the fire revealed motel rooms still furnished with old ovens, beds, sofas, nightstands, toilets, cabinets and much more.

The property – which Metropolitan is attempting to sell as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy strategy – had become a liability for the Spokane company.

At one point, Nick Scharff, assistant chief of Fire District 10, told Metropolitan that it needed to secure the property.

It was not an appealing idea for the firm as it tries to shave costs and sell its myriad real estate holdings.

So the company came up with a novel idea.

“Why not let the fire department burn the buildings as training?” said Chuck Hand, a property manager for Metropolitan.

Scharff liked the idea, and Saturday’s burn was set.

Maggie Lyons, who is overseeing Metropolitan’s bankruptcy operations, said the run-down buildings were a drag on the company’s ability to market the property.

“Get rid of the buildings and we think the Skyline property becomes much more marketable,” she said, adding that buyers were less than enamored by partially burned buildings, piles of junk and the significant liability.

The Skyline had a local reputation as a place for prostitution and drug use.

Scharff described the complex as “not high rent.”

“When it’s gone, many of us out here will breathe a sigh of relief,” he said.

Firefighters have been using the buildings to practice live-drill rescue techniques and fire suppression skills.

Even the Washington State Crime Lab was in on the deal.

Crime lab officers used the rooms as mock murder scenes. They simulated blood splatters and bullet holes, then practiced evidence collection and crime scene reconstruction.

What better place for a mock murder than a seedy motel?

When the training is finished, Metropolitan will clean up the site and try again to sell the property.

Any money earned eventually would be distributed among the company’s creditors, whose portfolios took a nose dive in the wake of Metropolitan’s bankruptcy.

“In the end, that’s what this is all about,” Lyons said.

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