Fire Chief: ‘This is the largest fire I have faced in 28 years’

The fire completely engulfed the building Jan. 25. (Photo courtesy Lynnwood Police)

It only took three minutes for what started as a stream of smoke to grow into a fire big enough to light up the alley south of a building under construction on Scriber Lake Road. Within eight minutes, flames were visibly shooting out of the building on the night of Jan. 25.

These were the time-stamped images from nearby surveillance cameras that fire crews showed community members who came to the Lynnwood Senior Center on Wednesday night to hear what happened that night and receive an update on the fire investigation. Crews who fought the fire and investigators looking into the cause of the fire spoke to a crowd of about 25 people.

“This is the largest fire I’ve faced in 28 years,” Fire Chief Brad Reading said.

Other firefighters with decades of experience echoed the sentiment.

“This fire growth was tremendous,” Battalion Chief Jason Turner said.

He compared the building to a young campfire. At first, you light tinder and small sticks with lots of room for air, until the flames are big enough that you can begin adding larger logs. This building was five stories of kindling, Turner said. A sprinkler system had been installed, he said, but it is typical for construction sites to not activate these systems until construction is complete.

The call came in at 9:27 p.m. on Jan. 25. Crews were on the scene in the 19800 block of Scriber Lake Road within 10 minutes. By that point, it was clear that the building under construction could not be saved. Fire crews immediately turned their focus to the Lynnview Apartments complex to the south of the building. Windows along the north side of the complex were already broken out from the heat, and the siding was melting.

“Our biggest concern was the Lynnview building,” Turner said, because people were living there. “I really thought we would lose the north Lynnview building, and if we did, we probably would have lost Picket Hill and Tanglewood as well.”

Lynnview was left uninhabitable due to smoke, water and heat damage, though it never caught fire. The other complexes, however, were mostly unscathed, other than some broken windows. Residents were able to return home once power was restored.

The fire called for a three-alarm response. That means 18 fire engines, five ladder trucks, three medic units, three aid trucks, six battalion chiefs and one technical rescue unit, among several other units, were called to the scene — a total of 107 fire personnel, from Lynnwood Fire and Fire District 1 as well as units from Fire District 8, Everett, Marysville, Mukilteo, Getchell, Gold Bar and Arlington, among others.

Lynnwood Police also played a key role in evacuating the nearby apartment complexes, a task normally conducted by firefighters. Lynnwood Public Works crews were also vital in diverting water from elsewhere in the city to this fire.

At one point, crews pumped water onto the fire at a rate of about 20,000 gallons per minute.

The cause of the fire remains unknown. However, Lynnwood Police Det. Brian Jorgensen said there is no reason at this time to suspect the fire was intentionally set.

Jorgensen couldn’t say much about what is known so far, as it is still an open investigation. However, he did say that an area of origin was discovered, and approximately 25 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are assisting with the investigation. ATF expects to have their investigation completed in about a month, he said.

Jamie Gravelle, disaster program manager for the Red Cross, was on the scene that night to provide emergency housing and resources to families living in the surrounding apartment complexes. Several people in the room thanked her for helping them that night.

She took a moment to ask those in attendance to stay prepared.

“If you haven’t updated your disaster kits, please do so,” she said.

Scriber Lake Road remains closed due to safety concerns. The remaining rafters need to be demolished, as they are not stable. That is expected to happen within about a week, then Scriber Lake Road can reopen.

–By Natalie Covate

  1. I think the amount of water may be off by a good bit. I am fairly certain the fire department was using more.than 20 gallons a minute. That’s like a couple of garden hoses. Maybe 20 gallons per second.

    1. Just heard back from Fire District 1 on this. The amount quoted during the meeting was indeed 20 gallons per minute but they confirmed the presenter simply misspoke. So we are correcting it now.

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