Investigators say the blast in Greenwood was caused by a natural-gas leak from outside the destroyed businesses, but it could take weeks to determine the cause. Damage is estimated at $3 million.
Owner Tim Pipes had just closed The Angry Beaver for the night and was chatting with employees when a “massive fireball” erupted from across the street and blasted into his bar.
“The front windows all shattered, the top windows of the bar broke, bottles were flying off our shelves, pictures on the back of the bar blew off the wall,” said Pipes, who credits the bar’s heavy door with shielding him from the full force of the blast.
Pipes was lucky. His bar was spared from the brunt of a devastating natural-gas explosion early Wednesday that destroyed three businesses, damaged nearly three dozen others and injured nine firefighters in the heart of Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood.
How to help
Naked City Brewery & Taphouse and Taproot Theatre are having a fundraiser Thursday, donating the money from every pint of “Greenwood Phoenix Golden Ale” sold at the taphouse to the Phinney Neighborhood Association’s fund to help the affected businesses. Donations may also be made through the association’s website, www.phinneycenter.org.
A gofundme page has also been set up for donations.
The explosion leveled two buildings and broke scores of windows, creating a huge debris field around Greenwood Avenue North and North 85th Street, littering the upper branches of trees with splintered plywood and broken masonry.
Seattle Fire Department investigators determined the blast was caused by a natural-gas leak from outside the destroyed businesses, but it could take weeks to determine what caused the leak.
Damage was estimated at $3 million.
Eight firefighters and a battalion chief were taken to Harborview Medical Center with minor cuts and abrasions, Fire Department spokeswoman Corey Orvold said. All were later released Wednesday morning.
“We know, as firefighters, this is a very dangerous job,” Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said at the scene.
The firefighters had responded to a report of a natural-gas leak near Greenwood Avenue North and North 85th Street around 1:04 a.m., according to Orvold. As firefighters were trying to pinpoint the source of the leak, a huge explosion ripped through the businesses about 1:40 a.m., its loud boom heard as far away as Edmonds and Lake Forest Park.
Firefighters at the scene urgently transmitted a “May Day” call to dispatch, with one declaring, “I have firefighters missing.”
The blast and resulting fire prompted a massive response by emergency crews, with firefighters helping injured comrades from the rubble. Firefighters spent several hours dousing the flames and hot spots.
Three businesses, Neptune Coffee, Mr. Gyros and a Quick Stop convenience store, were destroyed in the blast. A bike shop, G&O Family Cyclery, was heavily damaged.
“It just feels like a bomb went off,” said bike-shop owner David Giugliano, who heard the blast from his home about four blocks away.
Giugliano said the force of the blast embedded debris from Neptune Coffee into the side of his shop.
Bryan Howard, a photographer for Q13 FOX, was covering the gas leak from the corner of North 84th Street and Greenwood Avenue North when the building exploded.
“I started running … debris was falling from the sky,” said Howard, who captured images of the blast and the aftermath.
A total of 36 businesses were damaged, most of which sustained broken windows.
“This business district has suffered a devastating disaster,” said Mayor Ed Murray after he toured the damage later in the day. “The city is here to respond, to work with our partners in the neighborhood, work with the businesses, work with the community to make this neighborhood whole again.”
He said the city was committed to helping affected business owners with the cleanup, disaster paperwork and other issues.
“Thank God no one was seriously injured and so far, at least as far as we can tell, no one was killed,” he said.
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Andy Wappler, a Puget Sound Energy spokesman, said the utility typically inspects commercial and residential natural-gas lines every three years. He did not immediately know the date of the most recent inspection of the lines around the Greenwood explosion.
PSE and the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) are investigating the leak.
The UTC will determine if state and federal laws were followed and whether fines should be imposed and corrective action taken and whether the cause was the result of a systemic problem or an isolated incident, said Anna Gill, a UTC spokeswoman
The federal National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is monitoring the explosion and will decide whether to get involved, Keith Holloway, an NTSB spokesman in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday.
The NTSB investigates accidents involving the movement of natural gas and other hazardous materials, Holloway said.
The state Department of Labor & Industries, which investigates workplace injuries, is also investigating.
PSE reported in a memo to state lawmakers that the company didn’t shut off gas service to the buildings until more than an hour after the blast — at 2:48 a.m. The company did not immediately return a call seeking comment about the shut-off.
The businesses that were destroyed were housed in two adjacent buildings — one built in 1910, the other in 1926 — that were purchased three years ago by a Seattle company, Greenwood Urban, according to King County property records.
The majority owner of Greenwood Urban is Michael Slattery, proprietor of Slattery Properties, a 30-year-old commercial real-estate development and management firm headquartered in the Fisherman’s Commerce Building on Salmon Bay.
The two buildings have a combined value of more than $2.2 million, the records say.
Workers spent Wednesday morning boarding up the shattered windows of nearby Chocolati Café.
“This is the main strip. It’s definitely going to affect people,” said Darla Weideman, 34, cafe manager.
The cafe set up a table with coffee for first responders.
“We got our problems, but you never think of a gas explosion (in Greenwood) — that’s the last thing you think of, and the most dramatic,” Weideman said.
Sammy Arsheed, who with his brother owns Mr. Gyros, said he thought the leak came from outside his restaurant. “Firefighters were outside the building trying to put the leak out,” he said Wednesday morning.
When he arrived at the scene at about 2 a.m., Arsheed said, his first reaction was, “How did this happen? How did this happen?”
His next step?
“We rebuild, brother. Better than ever. This will not slow us down, friend.”
The explosion happened across North 85th Street from the site of a 2009 arson that destroyed four restaurants in the 1910-era Eleanor Roosevelt Building and damaged the Taproot Theatre playhouse.
Kevin Swalwell, a mentally ill homeless man with a history of setting fires, pleaded guilty in connection with the fire and nine others. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
The fires he set caused an estimated $3 million in damage.
Pipes, the owner of The Angry Beaver, which bills itself as “Seattle’s only Canadian-themed bar,” said that after the explosion he checked to make sure no one was in the restroom while his employees and a small group of regulars scurried out the back door.
Later, he said, he was “so ramped up from what happened” he didn’t fall asleep until 7:30 a.m.
“When I closed my eyes … I had this final recollection of this massive fireball coming across the street,” he said.