Police have opened a criminal investigation following a suspicious fire that killed two people as it engulfed two apartment buildings in Browne’s Addition early Monday.
Some residents of the apartments had to drop their pets from upper floor windows into the waiting arms of people below and then jump to escape the flames and smoke. Dozens of people were evacuated and several were injured, including a firefighter.
When emergency calls came in about Tiffany Manor, 2308 W. Second Ave., at 2:43 a.m., flames already were widespread in the building. The stairs were no longer accessible and some people had to be rescued by firefighters using ladders, said Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer. The two people who died were on the upper floor of the building.
Flames soon spread to a 124-year-old apartment building next door at 2314 W. Second Ave., Schaeffer said. Everyone safely escaped from the second structure, a colonial revival building constructed in 1897 that housed seven apartments.
Darrin Haman, who has lived on the bottom floor of Tiffany Manor for three years, said a woman walking by saw smoke in the stairwell, banged on his door and woke him up.
“As soon as I opened the door I saw the embers coming down,” Haman said.
He fled wearing only his underwear and without grabbing anything; he burned his foot in his escape.
When he got outside, Haman saw residents on upper floors trapped on their balconies. He caught one woman who jumped. Another woman on the top floor came out on a balcony but wouldn’t leap. He said he later learned that she died in the fire.
Haman, who has lived in Spokane for more than 20 years, said he’s glad he didn’t run back into his apartment for clothes or his phone. His 11-year-old daughter had planned to spend the night Sunday but changed her mind, Haman said.
When he was 11, Haman’s family home in Great Falls, Montana burned to the ground. Haman said losing everything then taught him that “it’s just stuff.”
Tiffany Manor, built in 1985, is on the northwest corner of Second and Spruce, kitty-corner from Coeur d’Alene Park. The building contained 11 apartments.
Nicholas Sorenson lived in the neighboring building in the apartment closest to Tiffany Manor’s outdoor staircase. Sorenson said he dozed off on the couch and awoke to the smell of smoke.
He ran outside to find Tiffany Manor in flames. He called 911 before running back inside his apartment building to get his 8 -year-old son. By that time, the flames had jumped to his apartment building.
“From the time I saw the fire here to the time it went to my place was less than a minute,” he said.
Sorenson was able to get his son to safety before running back into the building to help his neighbors evacuate, he said.
When Tori McMillan, 26, got home at 1:30 a.m. from her job as a bartender at Fast Eddies everything seemed normal on her block, including the neighboring Tiffany Manor. She had climbed into bed ready to go to sleep when she heard a scream from outside her apartment building.
She looked outside to see what was going on only to be met with a bright orange glow, McMillan said. She grabbed her medication, wallet and car keys and was running out of the building when she heard an explosion.
“It’s like a really bad horror movie,” she said.
McMillian stood tearfully on the sidewalk across the street from her still-burning apartment building at 5:15 a.m. in “disbelief.”
She doesn’t have renters insurance but said her parents live in town and she can stay with them.
Blaine McNicol and his husband Kyle Sullivan were asleep in their apartment, located in the carriage house behind the 1897 building, when the couple’s next door neighbor began banging on their door.
“It was like Armageddon,” McNicol said. “Through the blinds it was just like that orangey-red and that entire building was completely on fire.”
The pair had talked about an emergency plan and were able to quickly grab necessities and evacuate. Sullivan recently had a kidney transplant and his medication is vital, McNichol said.
Sullivan, who wears hearing aids, said it’s scary to know how long the fire must have been burning before they were alerted. Neither said he heard a fire alarm go off.
Firefighters had been able to keep the flames from spreading to the carriage house as of 7 a.m.
Schaeffer said one firefighter suffered minor injuries while fighting the fires and was treated and released from a local hospital. He said it is unlikely that either building can be restored.
Spokane Police Department major crimes detectives were on scene Monday morning to assist in the investigation.