Update: 2-alarm Arbor Heights fire blamed on ‘portable fire pit’

(Photo courtesy Aaron Bocchetti)
A “portable fire pit” in the garage is blamed for the fire that destroyed an Arbor Heights home on Saturday (WSB as-it-happened coverage here). That’s just in from the Seattle Fire Department, which also says the injured firefighter is out of the hospital. SFD says “old charcoal or wood in the fire pit spontaneously combusted” and sparked the fire, with damage estimated at $430,000. Today’s update says SFD and Seattle Public Utilities will investigate the hydrant problem that kept crews from having the necessary water supply for immediate firefighting. Meantime, for those who have asked if the family – which was out of town when this happened – needs help, we’re told that efforts are being organized right now; as soon as details are available, we’ll publish an update.

29 Replies to "Update: 2-alarm Arbor Heights fire blamed on 'portable fire pit'"

  • Pam August 28, 2011 (12:54 pm)

    Wow – that is horrible. Thank you for posting – is a sad but good reminder to pour water on the outdoor firepit instead of assuming nothing is left smoldering.

  • Alki Resident August 28, 2011 (1:08 pm)

    Had the firepit been sitting outside would it have spontaneously combusted like that?

  • samson August 28, 2011 (1:09 pm)

    Is this family back home yet? I’m wondering how they feel about losing their home? Hope they are okay…

  • Neighbor August 28, 2011 (1:14 pm)

    Not a big fan of portable fire pits – even less so now. You have to be soooo careful. Glad to hear the family was not at home or asleep.

  • annf64 August 28, 2011 (1:21 pm)

    Thank you for the update. my boys and their dad live right next door to this house. their garage was located on the backside of the house.i understood that the portable outdoor firepit was left IN the garage? most garages contain flammable/combustible products. how sad. please keep us updated on how we can help the family and what SPU will do about checking the hydrants.

  • Diane August 28, 2011 (1:25 pm)

    what is a portable fire pit?

  • Jonathan August 28, 2011 (1:35 pm)

    Damn right the hydrant problem will be investigated.

  • visitor August 28, 2011 (1:53 pm)

    how can wood in a fire pit spontaneously combust? Is it like a pile of hay? I mean really, how does that even happen. That is scary.

  • acemotel August 28, 2011 (2:14 pm)

    HOW does wood in a firepit spontaneously combust? How does that happen.

  • Jiggers August 28, 2011 (2:15 pm)

    Talk about the uneducated. Owners negligance. Maybe no sue job now. I’m glad that tree survived in that picture. Great shot. The heat of that fire must have been something else were he’s standing.

  • A... August 28, 2011 (2:35 pm)

    Ouch !

  • chrisma August 28, 2011 (2:50 pm)

    really, samson? you’re wondering how they feel about losing their home? how would you feel if it was your home and everything in it that burned?

  • Tami H August 28, 2011 (3:26 pm)

    Arbor Heights Community Church on the corner of 104th and 41st is trying to put together some type of help for the family. I met the pastor this morning and that was already in their plans.

  • anonyme August 28, 2011 (3:26 pm)

    I was always under the impression that since firepits are an “open fire’ they are illegal within Seattle City limits. Anyone know for sure?

  • smokeycretin9 August 28, 2011 (3:31 pm)

    So sorry for this family. If I were them, I’d be getting my lawyer fired up and hungry to take the Seattle Public Utilities to court to sue for BIG money.

  • cdw August 28, 2011 (4:09 pm)

    i thought charcoal and “spontaneous combustion” was a total myth? it would have been smoldering and smoking a little beforehand – which obviously was not caught as they were traveling. really sorry to hear about such a fire. i hope i’m storing my charcoal correctly. i have it a plastic bag so it won’t get wet and i hope that is not the opposite of what i should do.

  • Arbor Hghts Resident August 28, 2011 (4:21 pm)

    @aonoyme, fire pits are legal, here’s the link


  • BootLieut August 28, 2011 (4:30 pm)

    Firepits are not illegal. The regulations for firepits aka “Patio Fireplaces” are detailed in the following SFD information bulletin.


  • Family Member August 28, 2011 (6:12 pm)

    How the fire started is yet to be determined. The firepit had not been used in two years. It was put in the garage so it would not get rusted in rain.

    • WSB August 28, 2011 (7:39 pm)

      Family Member – thank you for your comment, and as we’ve noted here and also in e-mail to someone else who said they were related to the homeowners, please let us know if there is any help needed from the community. As for the fire cause, though, this is exactly what Seattle Fire Department announced this morning – taken directly from their Fire Line website:
      Quote from that announcement: “Fire investigators determined the fire that destroyed one home and damaged two others in an Arbor Heights neighborhood was caused by a portable fire pit in the home’s garage. Investigators say either old charcoal or wood in the fire pit spontaneously combusted and ignited nearby items stored inside an attached garage.”
      Has there been a change since that announcement? If so, SFD would usually alert the media, since otherwise, this is their official word to us as well as to the community at large – TR

    • WSB August 28, 2011 (8:32 pm)

      Update – Just received word on an organized effort to help the family, for anyone interested. The short version is that Arbor Heights Community Church – which is less than a block from the house that burned – is collecting monetary donations for starters. The family also is looking for a place to rent, preferably in the Arbor Heights area, because they have kids about to go back to school and they don’t want to have to change schools. Full story coming up a little later this evening – TR

  • celeste17 August 28, 2011 (6:49 pm)

    My brother lives really near here and wasn’t home this weekend but I talked to him earlier today and warned him of the increased water pressure.

    He is a plumber so knows all about the pipes in the area and says they are really old and rusted.

  • Owlish August 28, 2011 (10:42 pm)

    My parents’ neighbors house recently burned to the ground. The cause was a small pile of cloths that had a lot of oil on them. The pile combusted. Weird.

    Also about open pit fires… Our neighbor had one going last night and our entire house became filled with campfire smoke. I still smell it. My young son was coughing from it. We had to leave our house for awhile. If you have an open fire going, please be conscientious of where the smoke is blowing.

  • sam-c August 29, 2011 (6:44 am)

    so could a bag of charcoal sitting it the shed spontaneously combust too ? so sorry for this family.

  • Jon August 29, 2011 (7:51 am)

    Is anyone organizing neighborhood meeting to ensure the city responds with an appropriate investigation of the slow response and lack of water pressure? I know Chief Dean said that their response was 7 minutes but I was there and know better. It was much closer to 15 minutes from the time tha call was made.

  • friend August 29, 2011 (12:28 pm)

    Really jiggers???? It was not at all negligence, don’t make assumptions, these are people that just lost their home in a freak accident, and who knows if that is really the cause since it hasn’t been used in 2 years!!! Perhaps people are trying to cover their butts for the water issue!!!!!!

  • Terilyn Wyre August 29, 2011 (4:09 pm)

    I am a neighbor who lives across from the church. I was wondering if the church is accepting clothing/ school supplies/ care packages or if we can set up a drop off place? I am willing to be an organizer and use my house as a drop off place. Can we know the ages/ sizes of the kids, boys or girls etc? I am thinking alot of folks will be able to give gently used items and/or even shop for some new things where mom sure wont have time to handle that!

  • ElevenTruckmen August 29, 2011 (4:13 pm)

    @ Owlish, The rules regarding open burning in the city limits include rules meant to protect neighbors. If the fire is “creating a nuisance” the fire official has the authority to order the extinguishment of the fire. Even if the fire is otherwise legal. What constitutes a nuisance? The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) defines that as visible smoke in the house or a strong enough odor to cause evacuation. The best course of action in my mind is to let your neighbor know what is happening. Unless you have prior history i’m sure they would be OK with putting it out until the wind shifted. If they don’t want too you can contact the fire department for compliance in the short term. The long term solution is to contact the PSCAA and they will investigate. Let’s have a good time in our yards but we can also be neighbor friendly. Hope this helps

  • Fauntleroy Neighbor August 31, 2011 (9:50 pm)

    @Owlish, do you happen to live in the Lower Fauntleroy neighborhood? There has been a strong smoke/burning smell starting between 9pm-10pm on a daily basis for the past few weeks. I’d suspected it coming from a new neighbor, yet had never seen any actual fire until tonight; a roaring fire going in an open fire pit. I’d like to talk with the neighbor, whom I haven’t met yet, to introduce ourselves and also inform him of the nuisance his evening fires are causing. The kids have been waking up coughing, complaining of headaches, etc… Has anyone come across any other info. about fire pit usage in Seattle besides the link above – http://www.seattle.gov/fire/FMO/firecode/infobulletins/2002-2.pdf? Perhaps anything on proper extinguishing of your backyard fire to minimize smoke?

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