Seattle Fire says its investigation of last Saturday’s two-alarm fire on 20th Ave E is not complete and
a cause has not yet been determined but water pressure issues on the street did not hamper the firefighter response to the blaze that completely destroyed the framing of an under construction house, partially destroyed a neighboring home, and damaged a third, causing more than $2 million in damage. UPDATE: SFD tells us the investigation has, indeed, been completed. “There is not enough evidence to determine a cause and the cause of the fire is undetermined.”
“Firefighters appropriately managed the water supply at the fire incident,” a SFD spokesperson said in a statement sent to CHS.
The department spokesperson described what happened that led to a scramble to maintain adequate water as firefighters struggled to fight the flames in a blaze that ultimately required two hours to bring under control:
On Saturday, May 21, 2016, we responded to a fire on the 1100 block of 20 Avenue East. The two-alarm fire was rapidly expanding and had homes on both sides of the burning building. Due to the size and the rapid rate of growth of the fire, we put a significant demand on the 8-inch water main on 20 Avenue East. When additional units arrived, we began to pump water from a hydrant on 19 Avenue East, which is supplied by a 12-inch water main, and were able to provide the additional water flow needed.
Neighbors awoke that Saturday morning just after 4 AM to a 40-foot wall of flame mid-block on 20th Ave E between Highland and Prospect where the inferno started in the framing of an under-construction rebuild of a single-family home.
CHS reported the response of the firefighters appeared to be hindered by a period of water pressure problems starting around 4:30 AM involving hydrants near the fire scene just as the firefight was shifting from a focus on the construction site to saving the neighboring house. Crews scrambled to reestablish a strong water supply by attaching to hydrants farther away on 19th Ave, according to Seattle Fire radio dispatches.
By just after 4:50 AM, water service from closer to the scene was restored. Discussion of the water issues involving firefighter units and commanders can be heard in recordings of radio dispatches from the morning collected by CHS.
Seattle Fire tells CHS the water issues had no impact on the response and the amount of damage that occurred to the structures involved:
Maximizing the water supply at a significant fire is part of good fire scene management. When our firefighters reached the limits of the hydrants’ capacity on 20 Avenue East they established a water supply from a hydrant on 19 Avenue East where there is a larger water main. The water supply on 19 Avenue East was established within minutes.
The term “tapped out” means the hydrant’s capacity has been reached. It does not mean that water has stopped flowing from the hydrant to the hoses or that firefighters were no longer able to put water on the fire.
A spokesperson for Seattle Public Utilities said that hydrants are inspected annually.
The investigation to identify a cause of the fire was slowed by unsafe conditions at the incident site.
There were no reported serious injuries as the residents of the seriously damaged house were able to get out before the fire spread through their home.
Seattle Fire estimates the total damage for the incident involving three homes and a garage at $2.3 million.