3-HOUSE FIRE FOLLOWUP: SFD says fire started by ‘improperly installed heater’; donation drives begin for victims; about the water supply…

(UPDATED FRIDAY NIGHT with fire’s cause, more fundraisers)

(Photo from this morning, by WSB’s Patrick Sand)
ORIGINAL 1:10 PM REPORT: No announcement yet from Seattle Fire regarding what caused the 2-alarm, 3-house fire in the Pelly Place area southwest of Morgan Junction on Thursday afternoon. We went back this morning, and the investigation was still under way. If that information emerges today, we’ll add it to this followup.

7:45 PM UPDATE: SFD announced the cause this evening: “Improperly installed heater on a back porch.” Damage estimate for all three houses and their contents: $2.7 million. (That same link is to the SFD story including more details on the firefight.)

Two other updates:

HOW YOU CAN HELP: So many people have asked how they can help the fire victims. Today, two crowdfunding campaigns have emerged, one for each of two households affected – the links are here and here. We know others are working on finding out if the affected families have any immediate material needs, and we will update.

(7:45 pm update) Three Morgan Junction food/beverage establishments – Peel & Press, The Bridge, Beveridge Place Pub – will be donating a percentage of proceeds on Tuesday, according to Dan from P & P.

(9:36 pm update) Another fund has just been set up for the third family involved.

ABOUT THE WATER SUPPLY: In discussions both here on WSB and on the WSB Facebook page, concerns have arisen about reports that firefighters apparently had some initial challenges. Here’s what we’ve found out so far.

(This photo and next: Thursday photos by WSB’s Christopher Boffoli)
SFD spokesperson Kyle Moore tells WSB:

Because we had multiple hose lines running off one hydrant, we asked SPU to boost water pressure on the Fauntleroy hydrant. When we have a multi-alarm fire, its standard procedure for SPU to respond to monitor water pressure. An example was the Christmas Eve multi-alarm fire in the International District 2 years ago when SPU made sure we had enough water pressure to charge multiple hose lines.

It was a long hose lay and we had 2 engines maintaining water pressure. It’s called relay pumping. Firefighters train on this type of pumping.

The hydrants are actually owned/maintained by Seattle Public Utilities, so we are following up with them as well. You might recall the hydrant issues that followed the 2011 Arbor Heights house fire – new hydrants and lines were installed in parts of AH; then in 2013, there was another round of hydrant discussion, including a map of remaining lower-flow hydrants in West Seattle. You can also check the location of hydrants (or at least the proximity) near your residence by zooming in via the city’s MyNeighborhood map.

ADDED 2:45 PM: SPU has sent these responses to our questions, which included an invitation to include any other information that might help people understand how the system works:

1. How far apart are hydrants spaced in the City of Seattle?
Most hydrants are spaced between 300 and 500 feet apart. The closest hydrant in yesterday’s fire was 400 feet away.

2. What is the standard size for a fire hydrant?
Standard-sized hydrants range from 5 to 6 inches in diameter.

3. Is there a standard sized water main for residential areas?
Water mains that are eight inches in diameter are the standard size for new development in residential areas. The nearby water mains in yesterday’s fire were 8-inches and 16-inches in diameter.

4. Were there any low-flow hydrants in the area?
No

5. Is there a performance level for fire flow?
For single-family, residential homes, spacing and flow performance developed in partnership with the Seattle Fire Department include:
• Minimum fire flow at hydrants of 1,000 gallons per minute
• Hydrants within 1,000 feet of fire hose length from any home

6. What can you say about the performance of the water system in yesterday’s fire?
While we are still reviewing, our initial indication is that the water system operated as expected and there is no indication of restrictions in water flow. The water mains and hydrants in this area meet hydrant spacing and flow performance developed in partnership between Seattle Public Utilities and the Seattle Fire Department.

7. Why were Seattle Public Utilities water crew called to respond to the fire?
It is standard practice for SPU crews to respond to large fires. They are available to support the fire department and operate the water system if additional water flow can be achieved. They also act as a liaison between Fire and SPU’s Water Control Center.

31 Replies to "3-HOUSE FIRE FOLLOWUP: SFD says fire started by 'improperly installed heater'; donation drives begin for victims; about the water supply..."

  • Trileigh May 1, 2015 (2:12 pm)

    Donated to both! Thanks so much for sharing these links.

  • EmmyJane May 1, 2015 (3:50 pm)

    Anyone else having trouble donating on the youcaring site? I tried 4 times and it kept erroring.

  • carol May 1, 2015 (4:18 pm)

    YEs, I am having the same problem. Will try later.

  • schwaggy May 1, 2015 (4:21 pm)

    I listened to most of the fire unit’s conversations throughout yesterday’s fire and I’m skeptical of what SPU is saying. The first 40 minutes you could hear the frustration in the voices on the radio. The firefighters were absolutely having water issues.

  • Pat May 1, 2015 (4:37 pm)

    I was able to donate, so hopefully it’ll work for others.
    .
    A man just came to my door (I live in this neighborhood) from a company called “Red” or “County Red,” trying to sell me a home safety inspection. I thought this was in pretty poor taste. Yes, of course they’re likely to find people thinking about fire safety less than 24 hours after a tragic disaster – but to so clearly be trying to manipulate that into a financial benefit for themselves just seems kind of callous.
    .
    Give it a couple of months, maybe, but jeez, the next day? If I do eventually get a home safety inspection, it won’t be from this company.

  • Aaron May 1, 2015 (5:34 pm)

    The response from SPU-Water seems very reasonable. An eight inch main is very large. A standard hydrant with a minimum fire flow of 1000 Gallons per Minute is capable of putting out A LOT of fire.

    Yes, hydrant spacing and availability is an issue, however the closest hydrant at yesterday’s fire was 400′ away. That’s not too incredibly far away (most engines carry 1000 ft. of supply hose).

    What can be an issue, is if too many handlines were trying to be used all at once. If the first engine arrives and deploys a large handline capable of flowing 300-350 gallons per minute, then they’re good to go (based on 1000 GPM hydrant availability). However, if other arriving fire crews pull additional lines off of that same engine, then you could start approaching the max flow of that hydrant. Further, there is friction loss in all fire hose as the water flows through it.

    Seattle uses 4″ supply hose. The friction loss (assuming flow approaching maximum) is 20 PSI per 100 ft. section of supply hose. So if 400 feet of supply hose was deployed from the hydrant to the engine, and they were trying to flow near 1000 Gallons per minute, then that’s 80 PSI of friction loss in that supply line. That’s huge. Depending on what the static and residual pressures were on the water main supplying that hydrant, “over-flowing” the hydrant is a real possibility.

    Let’s face it though, this fire was huge, and no amount of water was going to change the outcome of the main house on fire.

    So I don’t think there was anything amiss with the water supply. It simply was a very large fire, that required an enormous amount of water to bring under control.

  • Peel & Press May 1, 2015 (7:32 pm)

    Peel & Press, The Bridge and Beveridge Place Pub have joined together and will be donating a portion of sales from Tuesday, 5/5 (Cinco de Mayo) to the families involved. All you have to do is eat and drink!!!

    • WSB May 1, 2015 (7:39 pm)

      Great, we’ll add above.

  • brizone May 1, 2015 (8:09 pm)

    Another great example of the kind of localized journalism you just won’t get anywhere else.

    Not just the followup on what happened, but a really great window into SPU operations that really educates the community in an era where most citizens have lost track of how things work, thinking electricity comes from an outlet in the wall and water from a sink faucet. Hopefully SPU is equally grateful for this opportunity at community outreach.

    And where else could the turnaround on publicizing a benefit for fire victims happen so fast?

    Kudos WSB, well done again, as always. And BPP and The Bridge too: thanks for being there for all of us! You’re really earned our patronage over the years with stuff like this. Spectacular.

    We’re all so, SO lucky to live in West Seattle, truly.

  • i'mcoveredinbees May 1, 2015 (8:13 pm)

    I want to know more about this heater on the back porch!

  • wscommuter May 1, 2015 (8:31 pm)

    Strongly echo brizone’s comments – I so appreciate having the WSB as a resource, especially for an event like this – aside from covering the tragedy and impact on our neighbors, WSB is giving us important information and making us more informed about larger questions beyond just this fire. Thank you for the great work.

    • WSB May 1, 2015 (8:38 pm)

      Thanks for the kind words. There’s so much more we *should* be doing but it requires a little more person-power – working on that this year.

  • ah May 1, 2015 (8:37 pm)

    Heater on a porch? Like a gas deck heater? Electrical?

  • Katie May 1, 2015 (9:27 pm)

    @WSB Go fund me account for Ellie has been set up. http://www.gofundme.com/tjh92g

    • WSB May 1, 2015 (9:33 pm)

      Thanks, will add to list and also to where we’ve mentioned the funds on the WSB FB page.

  • faceless May 1, 2015 (10:43 pm)

    My heart goes out to the families. I woke up this morning still feeling pretty sad for their loss. The first thing that went through my mind was whether or not Seattle Public Utility is at fault. Do they calibrate /measure pressure on these hydrants periodically and what is the policy for maintenance. The other thing I was wondering is if the hydrant was functioning properly, could the fire fighters have saved the homes. If Seattle Pub Utility is responsible, I just hope they man up.

    • WSB May 1, 2015 (11:01 pm)

      Two of the homes were engulfed before most of the firefighters even arrived – see the video at the top of our original story; our crew got there right after Engine 37, after seeing the smoke from nearby Morgan Junction, and shot that almost immediately on arrival.

  • Big G May 1, 2015 (11:16 pm)

    Those guys from “Red” came by my house too. They had no ID or anything, just black polo shirts with a Maltese cross on the left side of the chest. They were obviously trying to come across as being in the Fire Service, even though they’re not. I wasn’t about to let them into my home to case the place while they did a “Fire inspection”

    Not only was this in poor taste, I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys are a total scam to get into people’s houses and look for ways to break in later when they’re at work.

  • Bree May 2, 2015 (4:39 am)

    It just amazes me how the Fire Department can determine the cause of a fire after a fire especially when the house is a total loss like this. We would also like more info on this heater, if and when it becomes available & how it was improperly installed – was it plugged in the wrong area or what? Thanks WSB for all your help in keeping us informed in West Seattle.

  • Wsrez May 2, 2015 (6:07 am)

    I had trouble donating initially and eventually realized durinh the payment process, the credit card expiration year must four digits even though it seems to only request two in the field.

  • Silly Goose May 2, 2015 (8:32 am)

    I was heading into the city for a seminar and Fire Trucks kept coming down Fauntleroy at a high rate of speed, which I might add everyone was pulled over except a Metro shuttle driver who was wearing head phones clueless until the truck was right on his bumper blowing the horn and he then pulled to the side. I called my husband and told him to look on the WSB to find out what was going on and it was all here. Our constant news source!! Thanks Tracy and crew you are always on it!

  • rob May 2, 2015 (9:39 am)

    I also would like to know what kind of heater. This would be good to know so someone else does not make the same mistake. This is such a sad deal

  • Carol O. May 2, 2015 (9:52 am)

    I wonder if it was a propane fueled porch heater, the gas can leak if the hose to the propane tank is not properly hooked up, causing a explosion.

  • Derek May 2, 2015 (12:46 pm)

    I Agree it would know the kind of heater and the contractor who installed it to help avoid another tragedy

  • LarryB May 2, 2015 (2:38 pm)

    Has the SFD said more? As others have said, it’d be good to know.

  • SFDtruckLT May 2, 2015 (10:19 pm)

    If you want a fire inspection of your home contact your local fire station. They will come out with literature and do a free inspection. They can even install the newer smoke/CO detectors if you qualify. All at no charge or risk of a up-sell. Prevention, early detection, evacuation plan are the pillars of home fire safety. Eliminate sources change you batteries and practice your plan.

  • nancyk May 5, 2015 (2:48 pm)

    A man from RED just came to my door today. I just happened to be home. He wanted to talk to me about an inspection. He was not wearing an ID and I told him I was not interested. Do you know anything about this company? I have not been able to find out anything. I hope they are not casing the neighborhood. This is in the Gatewood area.

  • CR May 6, 2015 (2:44 pm)

    Looks like one of the houses had vinyl siding. That stuff is pretty toxic when burned. If I lived nearby, I would be worried about exposure to dioxin (a potent cancer causing chemical).

    I’m also interested to know what kind of heater it was and what about the installation was “faulty”.

  • Jessica May 7, 2015 (4:53 pm)

    I, too, would like to know more about this heater and installation from the officials so others can learn from this, please!

    • WSB May 7, 2015 (5:47 pm)

      I’ve asked. So far no further info is forthcoming.

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