Fire investigators hope to determine the cause of Saturday's massive, four-alarm fire that destroyed a lumberyard and millwork business this week. It took firefighters three hours to get the blaze under control.

Share story

Editor’s note: The Seattle Fire Department ruled the fire an arson Monday afternoon after this story’s publication. Read the update here. 

The cause of a huge fire at a North Queen Anne lumber yard remained under investigation Monday as firefighters moved to clean up and clear out from the scene of one of the largest industrial structure fires in Seattle in years.

Meantime, neighbors and eyewitnesses described a weekend scene of destruction as flames rose from the Gasciogne Lumber Co. and Northwest Millwork operations along the ship canal between Puget Sound and Lake Union. A lick of flames first noticed by neighbors Saturday night quickly expanded into a conflagration that shot flames ten stories into the air, resulted in a four-alarm call out by Seattle firefighters and torched tons of tinder-dry lumber in a matter of hours.

Kelley Burch was watching a cooking show on TV with her husband and son on Saturday night when they saw flames rising above the lumberyard across West Ewing Street from where their boat is moored.

Her husband called 911, Burch grabbed a fire extinguisher and with her son ran onto the docks of the Canal Marina, yelling “Fire!” and rousing their neighbors as the inferno took hold.

Burch raced to the South Ship Canal Trail, which bisects the massive lot shared by the Gasciogne Lumber Co. and Northwest Millwork, and was in time to see flames jump from a burning building on the south side of the trail to a building on the north side. Her husband yelled for her to get back.

“It took off too quick … It was tinder dry,” she said of the blaze, the largest fire in Seattle in nearly a decade.

On Monday, the air was still thick with smoke and the roads were covered in charcoal and other toxic debris as the massive cleanup effort began, with the Coast Guard scouring the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Seattle Public Utilities mopping up on land. Crews were working to restore telephone service and power after the blaze melted overhead lines. A burned-out BMW was parked on the street and a handful of other vehicles suffered damage, with melted taillights and paint blistered from the heat.

Two of five buildings on the site, located on 6th Avenue West and West Ewing Street off West Nickerson Street, collapsed and another building was too structurally unstable for firefighters to enter on Monday, said Kristin Tinsley, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Fire Department. A couple of engine crews remained on site on “fire watch” throughout the day to deal with hot spots, she said.

The buildings and sheds burned in the fire are leased by Northwest Millwork and Gascoigne Lumber, a family business established in 1926. The building housing Gascoigne’s administrative offices was relatively unscathed.

When firefighters arrived just after 8:40 p.m. Saturday, flames were shooting 100 feet in the air and a warehouse was fully engulfed, Tinsley said. She estimated that 150 firefighters took part in the firefight, dousing the flames from all angles, including from fireboats along the ship canal. It took three hours to get the blaze under control and firefighters from South King County and the Eastside were called in to backfill the city’s fire houses and respond to calls, she said.

“It was very impressive work by the crews. It was a huge effort by the Seattle Fire Department to make sure this stayed under control,” Tinsley said.

Fire investigators hope to be able to determine the cause of the fire this week and as far as fire officials know, there were no injuries, though they were unable to enter any of the buildings to search for possible victims, said Tinsley.

“They were just clearly dog tired,” Jessica Vanasse, who lives on a sailboat in the marina, said of the firefighters who continued to pour water on the site throughout the day Sunday. “It must’ve been discouraging to keep pouring water on it and it just wouldn’t go out.”

Before the fire trucks arrived, Vanasse’s sister was able to drive off with her bulldog, but Vanasse turned back to rescue an absent neighbor’s elderly poodle. By the time she got the dog off the neighbor’s boat, she was trapped by the flames and emergency vehicles and so retreated to the marina’s parking lot.

“It was physically painful,” she said of the searing heat.

On Sunday, Gascoigne President Tom Davis said he is confident the business can recover from the blaze.

“We’re gonna probably move, not rebuild,” he told The Seattle Times on Sunday. “But we’re gonna carry on. The company’s been here 100 years.”