Seattle Fire Department spokesperson Kristin Tinsley said it could take up to several days to fully extinguish a fire this large.
After a four-alarm fire that erupted in North Queen Anne Saturday night, engulfing three buildings and two sheds on the south side of the Ship Canal, fire investigators were still waiting Sunday afternoon for the fire to be fully extinguished so they could safely investigate.
Seattle Fire Department spokesperson Kristin Tinsley said firefighters were working to put out embers or smoldering fires that could cause the fire to reignite, and that process could take several days. The cause of the fire was undetermined, pending the start of the investigation.
The buildings and sheds burned in Saturday night’s fire are leased by Northwest Millwork and Gascoigne Lumber, a family business established in 1926. The building housing Gascoigne operations would have celebrated its 100th year in 2019. Two of the structures collapsed, but the building housing Gascoigne’s administrative offices was relatively unscathed.
Tom Davis, president of Gascoigne Lumber, said that firefighters retrieved several computers and servers Saturday night, but Davis hopes to retrieve other valuable items as well.
After the first report of the fire around 9 p.m. Saturday, an engine company from the Ballard fire station was the first crew on the scene and reported flames up to 100 feet high.
The Fire Department upgraded it to a four-alarm fire, based on the number of fire units needed to battle the blaze. It was the first time a Seattle fire has reached that intensity since 2010, when a former Sunny Jim peanut butter factory in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood burned.
Seattle Fire confirmed with the warehouse owners on the scene that the contents of the warehouses were primarily lumber and reported that a large amount of combustible materials caused the fire to spread quickly.
There were no reports of occupants inside any of the five structures; however, firefighters have not been able to search the buildings to confirm. Davis said that all 20 employees were accounted for.
“Fire investigators will be working to see what the structural integrity is and what areas of the scene they can actually go into,” Tinsley said. “Then they’ll start their investigations.”
Seattle police Sergeant Verner O’Quin, with the department’s arson squad, said that fire investigators do not yet have any concrete evidence about what may have caused the fire, and they confirmed that it will likely take several days before they can get in to investigate properly.
“It’s still smoldering, and as soon as they stop pouring water on it, it will just flare up again,” O’Quin said.
Firefighters blasted the area with several water hoses from different angles, including from a ladder well above the wreckage of one of the collapsed buildings. Water from the hoses had begun gathering in shallow pools around the site, yet large, dense clouds of smoke still steadily rose from several blackened structures.
Gascoigne employees looked on from a safe distance near the entrance to the Ship Canal Trail, and passers-by and cyclists stopped to snap photos before detouring around the smoking fire to continue on the trail.
Davis, who began his career at Gascoigne Lumber in 1977 sweeping the floors, was at the site Sunday afternoon along with his nephew, talking with investigators.
Davis said that investigators told him the fire had likely started in a shed on the far northwest side of the property. His nephew, Weston Davis, added that investigators had told him the fire likely started in an open shed that anyone could have accessed.
“They said initially they didn’t find any evidence of accelerants in there,” Weston Davis said. “It could have been something as simple as a cigarette.”
O’Quin agreed that the fire may have started in the open sheds but reiterated that they still need to investigate. “Right now we’re trying to find out exactly how it started, and we don’t have anything concrete yet,” O’Quin said.
Both Tom and Weston Davis were calm as they lamented the loss of the warehouse, which was built in 1919.
President Tom Davis is confident that Gascoigne, a finish lumber and molding supplier, can restart.
“We’re gonna probably move, not rebuild,” Tom Davis said. “But we’re gonna carry on. The company’s been here 100 years.”
Weston Davis held one of his sons in his arms while the other playfully hugged at his leg. “I’ll just miss coming back to this place,” he said. “It was one of the last of the old timers when it comes to the way lumber used to be done.”
The Seattle Fire Department will be posting updates on the Seattle Fire Department blog fireline.seattle.gov.