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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Lucky boy, 3, survives arson


Spokane Fire Department firefighters mop up after a fire Friday morning that destroyed a house converted into three apartments. 
 (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Fire Department firefighters mop up after a fire Friday morning that destroyed a house converted into three apartments. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Thomas Clouse Staff writer

Anthony Lidell has been having trouble getting his 3-year-old son Joshua to sleep in his own room. That insecurity probably saved the boy’s life.

An intentionally-set fire Friday morning ravaged a three-story house that had been converted to apartments. Spokane Fire Department officials said someone set fire to a couch outside the house at 1813 W. Gardner Ave., causing extensive damage.

The burning couch was just outside Joshua’s room. The blaze converted the room to a blackened shell. The mattress was torched and was crushed under a pile of charred debris.

“Joshua was sleeping with me,” said Lidell as he looked at the destruction. Water dripped from the sagging ceiling. “Someone was watching over us.”

Fire Investigator Mike Zambryski was also investigating the arson of a recycling bin two houses west of the Gardner fire and a suspicious fire two blocks away at 1902 W. Sharp Ave. that burned two tires next to a porch.

“We had three fires, two blocks apart in less than 15 minutes,” said Zambryski, who is investigating whether all three fires are related. “We’ve received some information on a few different people that we need to interview.”

However, Zambryski can’t say whether the fires are all arson until he contacts the man who reported the fire on Sharp. That homeowner saw the fire and put it out before calling fire crews, Zambryski said.

Nobody was injured at any of the fires, but a firefighter hurt his neck while working the house fire and was transported to a local hospital to get checked out, Battalion Chief Mike Inman said.

The Sharp fire was reported at 3:21 a.m. Crews had just arrived when they got the call at 3:33 a.m. to respond to the Gardner fire, Inman said.

“The first crew reported fire on the east side of the house, burning up around the back of house,” Inman said. “There had been a couch and a chair in that location. There’s no doubt that’s where the fire started.”

A Spokane Police officer was responding to the Gardner fire when he noticed a recycling bin burning in the alley two houses to the west, Zambryski said.

“He put it out with a fire extinguisher,” Zambryski said. “All that was left were some old cans and the container had melted.”

When firefighters arrived at Gardner, all five occupants had made it out and the back of the house was fully engulfed, Inman said.

Flames damaged the first and second floors and gutted the third floor and attic. “It burned the entire roof off,” Zambryski said.

Lidell said he and Joshua were sleeping in his bedroom on the north side of the house. His wife, Stacy, was sleeping on the couch. The fire started on the southeast corner of the house.

“I heard some guy screaming, ‘Fire,’ in the street,” Lidell said. He said the apartment had smoke detectors but they didn’t activate Friday morning.

William “Willie” Allsop, 37, and a friend, who only gave his name as “Sarge,” were in a second-floor apartment when the man in the street ran inside the house and warned them of the fire, Allsop said.

Allsop said he wasn’t sure if his black cats, Molly and Cruiser, made it out.

Inman said he saw a very wet cat escape who seemed fine, but he was unsure about the other feline.

“I got here at about 6:30 a.m. and there were still a few little flames,” he said.

Fire crews had to work hard to keep the fire from spreading to houses on both sides. They arrived to find the homeowner to the east spraying down his house with a garden hose.

Inman said the American Red Cross was working with the Lidells to make sure they had a place to stay.

“They had a hard time finding a hotel room for the family because of the State B tournament,” Inman said.

Lidell, who didn’t have renter’s insurance, said the Red Cross finally found them a room for three days at the Comfort Inn on North Division. He said he’ll use the time to start looking for a new home.

Six hours after the blaze, 55-year-old Sarge slurped from a 32-ounce can of Keystone Ice as he watched fire crews complete their mop-up.

Neighbors stroked Sarge’s Rottweiler, named “D.O.G.,” as Sarge paced back and forth on the sidewalk.

“Some of us lost everything we had,” he said.

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