Update: Fire at Stewart Manor apartments, 3 evacuees to hospital

(scroll down for updates, more photos)

(video clip above by WSB photojournalist Christopher Boffoli, added 10:17 am; cameraphone photo below by Patrick Sand, from our original 9 am-hour coverage)

ORIGINAL 9 AM REPORT: Big callout right now to 6339 34th SW (map), and at least one report of “a lot of smoke.” 9:05 AM UPDATE: We’re on scene and can see the smoke. Police are blocking traffic for blocks around the building. The fire’s on the 5th floor and crews are working to get everybody out – this is the big building run by the Housing Authority just east of the convenience store at 35th/Morgan. Co-publisher Patrick Sand is there and says smoke is pouring from one window on the 5th floor. He says medics are checking out at least three people for possible smoke inhalation. 9:14 PM UPDATE: In addition to the cameraphone pic we added above, here’s another view from WSB contributing photojournalist Christopher Boffoli:

Cindi Barker from the Morgan Community Association — who lives a few blocks west — reports the traffic closure includes 35th/Morgan. SFD spokesperson Dana Vander Houwen is there and says the fire’s tapped.

9:22 AM UPDATE: Note that you also cannot get into Walgreen’s on 35th, just west of the fire scene, because its parking lot is being used as a staging area for some of the many crews that responded to this fire at the building (Stewart Manor). Cindi says crews also have been using hydrants from the other side (west side) of 35th.

9:34 AM UPDATE: Buses are being rerouted too. Fire crews are being rotated, as you can hear on the scanner – take a look at the online 911 log to see how many units responded. Crews are sweeping inside the building to check for damage – we just heard one report that the 4th floor, beneath the fire, “has no smoke or water damage.” Stewart Manor has 72 units, according to this SHA webpage.

9:41 AM UPDATE: SFD’s Vander Houwen just talked with us. She says 12 people in all are being treated for potential smoke inhalation. One was taken to Harborview Medical Center because of previous respiratory problems. The fire was in one unit on the fifth floor, no word on the cause so far; everyone’s out of the building and the sweep will determine if it’s safe for some to go back in.

9:56 AM UPDATE: Police have just reopened 35th SW to traffic in both directions. We just got an update at the scene from SFD’s Vander Houwen – investigators have not yet determined the cause; the fire was in one unit, on the east side of the 5th floor, with some smoke/water damage to an adjacent unit. Floors 1-3 have been cleared for people to go back in. More of the fire units are about to be cleared from the scene, but some will be there all day continuing to check air quality in the building. Adding more photos — WSB contributing photojournalist Christopher Boffoli took this one of someone being evacuated down a fire-truck ladder:

10:08 AM UPDATE: Bill Bacon at One Community Commons (kitty corner from Stewart Manor) took this photo – as you can see from the smoke, this was before the fire was out:

The smoke-inhalation cases are the only injuries that SFD has reported – nobody wound up jumping or getting hurt in other ways – you’ll see more of the fire crews’ evacuation work in video that we will have back at HQ shortly.

10:29 AM UPDATE: Added Christopher’s video at the very top of the story. Also received another photo from nearby resident Bill – this woman, who identified herself as Grace, had just been brought out of the building at this moment:

He also photographed medics checking evacuees out in the triage area they’d set up:

10:57 AM UPDATE: Update from SFD’s Vander Houwen – two people have gone to Harborview for “minor smoke inhalation,” both by private ambulance. The other 10 people who got medic attention did not need to go to the hospital. Still no cause or damage estimate yet. She says the one person you see being brought down a ladder is the only one who had to be evacuated that way – everybody else was brought out by the stairs. Here’s a view we haven’t shown you yet – part of the massive response – this clip was taken looking all the way around from a spot on Morgan at 34th:

11:26 AM UPDATE: Morgan also has just reopened, per Nuni in comments.

11:59 AM UPDATE: Here’s video of the entire 4-minute briefing that SFD spokesperson Dana Vander Houwen gave at the scene:

ADDED 12:19 PM: As you heard her say in that video, one main task for the firefighters was making sure everybody got out safely, especially considering there are elderly and medically challenged residents in the building, as you can see in these additional photos from WSB contributing photojournalists – first from Christopher Boffoli, second from Matt Durham:

Again, no major injuries were reported. Matt (who has worked as a newspaper photojournalist and also currently works as a firefighter in a department outside Seattle) also reported that three-year Stewart Manor resident Michael E. Searcy, shown in the photo above, told him the hallways were dark as they evacuated: “We don’t have any emergency lighting when the power goes out. … There are no sprinklers; they say our building is grandfathered.” We will follow up on this with the Housing Authority. Meantime, the latest post-fire update from Vander Houwen – three patients are now reported to have gone to Harborview for “minor smoke inhalation.”

1:56 PM UPDATE: As Mookie notes in comments, SFD has announced the cause on Twitter:

Fire at 34th and Morgan ruled accidental – caused by resident heating shoe polish with hand held flame which spread to the bed. Damage $175k.

3:08 PM UPDATE: Seattle Times (WSB partner) talked with a resident of the unit, who explained what was happening with said shoe polish – here’s their story.

43 Replies to "Update: Fire at Stewart Manor apartments, 3 evacuees to hospital"

  • Ken September 13, 2009 (9:06 am)

    That’s a Seattle Housing Authority building if I remember correctly. The one behind the Walgreens on 35th?

  • WSB September 13, 2009 (9:10 am)

    Yes, it is that one, behind the convenience store and Walgreen.

  • LyndaB September 13, 2009 (9:17 am)

    By the amount of sirens we’ve been hearing, it’s a HUGE response. I hope everybody is ok.

  • Marcia Ford September 13, 2009 (9:23 am)

    That is Stewart Manor.

  • WSB September 13, 2009 (9:27 am)

    Thanks, I just added the name a few minutes ago, had to look it up from a story we covered there months ago as it did not come up quickly via search. Because of the size of the response this will be an active scene for some time to come, even though the fire itself is tapped – TR

  • Leonor September 13, 2009 (9:35 am)

    I’m getting worried,,, have heard sirens for a while now,, alot of sirens…. Is everyone okay in there?????????

  • Mat September 13, 2009 (9:45 am)

    It sounds like traffic is starting to flow on 35th and there aren’t quite as many sirens as there were, but man for 30 minutes there it was a siren a minute!

    I also just saw a bus go by so the 21 is up and good.

    Hope everything works out ok for those people in the building!

  • Jen September 13, 2009 (9:47 am)

    Thanks for the info. I’ve looked all over the news to see what the heck was going on, as sirens have been blazing by my house for almost an hour now. Nothing. West Seattle Blog had it! Thanks again.

  • WSB September 13, 2009 (9:50 am)

    Always check us first – we do West Seattle news 24/7 – there were a few other media crews there but having worked in citywide media I can tell you they don’t have the same priority to “report it immediately and update it continuously so people know what’s going on” as a neighborhood news source would be (same goes for our compatriots in other neighborhoods like Ballard and Capitol Hill). Thanks also to the many people who e-mailed and called to be sure we had this – TR

  • Cryslou September 13, 2009 (9:56 am)

    WSB is definately the way to go! I was in bed but grabbed my phone and checked my tweets – you should check them out on Twitter if you haven’t already!

  • Christopher Boffoli September 13, 2009 (10:07 am)

    That woman coming down the ladder was so brave! I doubt when she woke up this morning she thought she’d be exiting her apartment through the window 50 feet above the ground!

  • Cryslou September 13, 2009 (10:09 am)

    Thanks for the photos Christopher!

  • James Mahler September 13, 2009 (10:11 am)

    I was driving across the West Seattle Bridge as many fire trucks and aid units passed me by. I got to 35th and Morgan as the police arrived and closed 35th. I had to turnaround in the convenience store parking lot. There were several people being treated by SFD. Every street and ally had fire units.

  • WSB September 13, 2009 (10:37 am)

    Re: Cryslou’s comment, you don’t have to be a Twitter user to look at reports on Twitter – they appear on a regular old web page too – we often get one line up there (and also often on Facebook) a moment or two before we start a report here –
    (that’s also the link you go to if you click the Twitter line atop the right sidebar)

  • sacatosh September 13, 2009 (10:59 am)

    Just below the 10:08 update, there’s a picture of a woman clinging to the side of the building next to the window where smoke is pouring out. What’s she standing on?? Looks like she may be the resident of the apt that burned. I can’t imagine clinging like Spiderman 5 stories up. It must have been incredibly frightening.

  • Christopher Boffoli September 13, 2009 (11:07 am)

    My Flickr stream with additional images from this morning:


  • West Seatle neighbor September 13, 2009 (11:11 am)

    I live right across the street from there. Me and some other neighbors watched as the lady stepped out her window. She’s standing on the very think window sill. Was acary to watch her. From what I heard the unit that burned was the one where the fire ladder was. So glad that everyone got out. Could have been so much worse. Hope the person taken to Harborview is going to be ok also.

  • WSB September 13, 2009 (11:13 am)

    Have just added that 2 went to Harborview – but both by private ambulance, which means not major injuries – thanks for the update. Amazing that only one person had to be brought down on a ladder, also per the latest SFD update – TR

  • nuni September 13, 2009 (11:17 am)

    I also live directly across the street. Just an update that they reopened Morgan just now.

  • good job September 13, 2009 (11:21 am)

    Amazing work by SFD! They sure are *unfortunately* busy right now. What’s up w/that!?

  • WSB September 13, 2009 (11:26 am)

    Thank you! Will add.

  • Sarah Antonelli September 13, 2009 (11:39 am)

    Hi. Thank you so much for posting all of this information. My mother, husband, and dog was in the building when it occured. She was sleeping in the apartment just above the apartment where the fire might have apparently started. She woke up to the alarm and thought it was another fire drill, but she smelled the smoke and decided it was about time to get out of there! She’s up on the 6th floor and believes the fire to have started on the 5th floor below. Once in the stairwell, she said there was thick black smoke. Thankfully to the WONDERFUL fire department they were already there getting to work. She described the scene just as you see it in the videos above. I’m glad to hear there aren’t any reported major casulties. Please keep the updates coming as this is the only news source I’ve found.

  • WSB September 13, 2009 (12:22 pm)

    Glad they are OK, Sarah. Thank you for your info. The Fire Department does confirm the fire started on the 5th floor but as of the most recent update from their spokesperson, still no word yet on the cause, investigators are working on it – TR

  • nuni September 13, 2009 (12:26 pm)

    rumor was someone was heating up shoe polish. Uncomfirmed.

  • West Seatle neighbor September 13, 2009 (1:46 pm)

    A lady I was talking to this morming that lived there also said something about someone heating up shoe polish.

    Great job by the Seattle Fire Department for being so fast to respond and in such force! There were so many.

  • Mookie September 13, 2009 (1:54 pm)

    Per the SeattleFire account on Twitter:

    “Fire at 34th and Morgan ruled accidental – caused by resident heating shoe polish with hand held flame which spread to the bed. Damage $175k”

  • WSB September 13, 2009 (1:56 pm)

    Thanks Mookie, Twitter says that came thru 31 minutes ago and I swear I called the media line to check for an update 32 minutes ago. Adding to main bar – TR

  • JanS September 13, 2009 (2:21 pm)

    I’m so glad everyone is OK, that there were no serious injuries.

    An aside questions…why does one heat up shoe polish? Does it make it go on easier? I haven’t used shoe polish since I was in the Army, more years ago than I care to admit :)

  • sacatosh September 13, 2009 (2:49 pm)

    Echoing Jan’s question. WHY would one heat shoe polish???? Perhaps huffing the fumes? Or …?


  • WSB September 13, 2009 (3:08 pm)

    The Times talked with a resident of the apartment. Shoe-shining.

  • sacatosh September 13, 2009 (3:11 pm)

    Thanks WSB, I have never heard of having to melt polish. Kiwi tends to melt just from the heat of friction.

  • nuni September 13, 2009 (3:26 pm)

    Red Cross Disaster Relief truck hanging out there.

  • wseye September 13, 2009 (3:57 pm)

    WSB: There is a photo of a woman hanging part way out of her window, can you tell us how many floors up that was? I assume that was also on the 5th floor is that correct? A very dangerous spot to be in, regardless, the way she is balanced she could easily have fallen and died. We are fortunate that nobody was hurt. I believe that building is sprinklered and that contained the fire, but the smoke is another story. It must have been very bad for a person to do what she did.

  • WSB September 13, 2009 (4:09 pm)

    I have five different shots of that but none shows which floor – one of the photographers would have to answer – I’m not in direct contact with any at the moment but Patrick might know when he gets back from an errand. Can’t be any lower than the 4th floor, as the 1st through 3rd were reported untouched by the smoke/water.
    The photo reminds me too much of a story I helped cover almost 29 years ago, the MGM Grand hotel fire in Las Vegas. Thank God this one wasn’t deadly.

  • West Seatle neighbor September 13, 2009 (4:12 pm)

    The lady hanging out the window was on the 5th floor of the bldg on the North end.

  • Tony September 13, 2009 (4:14 pm)

    Polish is warmed with lighter to easily apply to shoes. We had to store flammables on our refridgerators in the military, which usually if not always included Kiwi polish & a lighter. Common practice..

  • WSB September 13, 2009 (4:17 pm)

    Regarding the sprinklers – found this story. It does not specifically mention Stewart Manor but it said that as of the time of publication three years ago, SHA had more than two dozen unsprinklered apartment buildings:
    They were required after 1990 but Stewart Manor was built in 1968 according to the county records online:
    As noted above, I will check with SHA tomorrow.

  • Rick Harrison September 13, 2009 (6:45 pm)

    I live in an SHA building in North Seattle. SHA has 28 bldgs. in their LIPH program. These buildings are all built with one thing in common, and that makes them very safe.

    That thing – the walls between each unit are steel reinforced cement block. This means that one unit can be completely gutted by fire, and the fire will not spread beyond that unit.

    I have photos of a fire in an SHA building I used to live in. It will show the complete destruction of that unit, but the fire did not spread. If I can figure out how to post them, I will.

    While I do not agree with everything SHA does, I will say that they take safety very seriously. The fact that so few people were affected in any way is testament to that.

  • KateMcA September 13, 2009 (8:39 pm)

    I’m concerned that there might not be any emergency lighting in the hallways there- it seems like even if the building was grandfathered in when codes changed that would be a relatively easy thing to remedy. Glad everyone was ok above all!

  • Sarah Antonelli September 13, 2009 (9:35 pm)

    Thank you everyone for the updates! It’s much appreciated. Anyone hear who it was that went to the hospital or if they were released?

  • valvashon September 14, 2009 (2:46 am)

    I haven’t done any actual research, but I’m pretty sure that not having emergency lighting isn’t grandfathered in under any circumstances. Any time you have those lighted exit signs, they have to have a battery backup.

  • LtFD September 14, 2009 (1:22 pm)

    “This means that one unit can be completely gutted by fire, and the fire will not spread beyond that unit”.

    However, the smoke (heat with carbon particles, carbon monoxide, acrolein, hydrogen cyanide, and other gases) can spread from the unit on fire. Most fire deaths occur due to smoke inhalation, away from the immediate fire area, rather than from flames.

    Additionally, flames lapping up the exterior from a unit on fire can enter windows in the units above (auto-exposure).

  • WSB September 14, 2009 (1:37 pm)

    We just got a response to some of our questions from the SHA and I’m about to post a followup at

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