UPDATE: ‘Spontaneous combustion’ blamed for 2-alarm container fire on Alaska Marine Lines barge

(Photos by WSB’s Patrick Sand unless otherwise credited)

3:57 PM: A second major fire call is working right now, this one in the 5600 block of West Marginal Way SW [map]. In this one, we’re hearing by scanner, there is some concern about propane tanks – stay away from the area.

4:04 PM: Per scanner, this fire is reported to involve containers on a barge. The response includes at least one SFD fireboat.

4:13 PM: The response has been upgraded to include “hazmat” so you will see and hear even more units heading to it. We have just arrived in the area. West Marginal Way is NOT blocked off – the fire units are all on the east side.

4:24 PM: The additional responders are arriving now and West Marginal is filling up – not sure how long it is going to remain open. We’ve added a photo of firefighters getting water on the burning container(s).

4:28 PM: Media crews are being kept back a ways for obvious reasons. Via scanner, it’s reported that the fire is believed to have started in garbage inside the container(s).

IMG_5344 (1)

4:40 PM: Still an active firefight. We haven’t heard of any injuries but no one is providing official information to us or other gathered media yet, either. Meantime, the Coast Guard is helping keep vessels away from the fire zone; one of our crews is going to go see if any of this is visible from anywhere else along the river.

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(Photo courtesy Aaron)

4:51 PM: Just got a briefing from SFD’s Lt. Harold Webb (video added below), who says basically half the city’s firefighting force is here.

…including Chief Harold Scoggins.

(Photo added: Chief Scoggins and Lt. Webb)

Even more units are arriving now. No injuries, we’ve confirmed. What they’re doing now, Lt. Webb says, is trying to cool off the burning containers so they can get a chance at taking them apart and figuring out what caught fire.


He mentioned the same thing we had heard via scanner – they’re not entirely sure what’s in the containers but garbage is believed to be at least part of it.


5:21 PM: Thanks to Andrea for the photo above – looking toward the fire scene from Highland Park – and Stacy for the tip that boat traffic is being kept out of the area, so if you’re looking to head south on the Duwamish River from the West Seattle Bridge vicinity, you won’t be able to, TFN. Looking toward the fire scene from the east shore of the river, Patrick Kelly shared this photo via Twitter:


Lots of firefighting foam in the water.

5:43 PM: Some units are being dismissed as this winds down. Scanner discussion also indicates the exclusion zone on the river will be reduced.

6:53 PM: We just went over to check on how the wrapup is going. More SFD units left, including the last one (Engine 29) that was still parked along West Marginal Way. Lt. Webb, currently serving as public-information officer, was about to leave too, and told us they would still have a presence on site for a few hours. Forklifts are continuing to pull containers off the barge where the fire started:


8:29 PM: SFD says “spontaneous combustion of garbage” is what sparked the fire.

18 Replies to "UPDATE: 'Spontaneous combustion' blamed for 2-alarm container fire on Alaska Marine Lines barge"

  • Anonymous September 5, 2016 (4:52 pm)

    Garbage from Alaska probably 

  • dsa September 5, 2016 (5:35 pm)

    As usual, more info and pictures here than TV news.

    • WSB September 5, 2016 (5:39 pm)

      And we’re adding more! We’ll add Lt. Webb’s briefing on video when processed.

  • sarah September 5, 2016 (6:40 pm)

    What’s the effect of the firefighting foam on the water, fish, people, etc…?

    • WSB September 5, 2016 (6:52 pm)

      Good question! We just went down to check on the wrapup; Patrick noticed that the Department of Ecology was there. We’ll have to ask them that question.

  • Jim Clark September 5, 2016 (6:42 pm)

    I think it is cargo that is heading up to Alaska shortly

  • Shelly Lager September 5, 2016 (8:35 pm)

    Jim do you know that it is barge heading to Alaska? I know there is one loaded and in its way up but there was one that arrived from Alaska too. I’m thinking if it had garbage on it, it’s from Alaska 

  • Shelly Lager September 5, 2016 (8:37 pm)

     Wondering if this is the barge that has my Jeep on it, shipped from Juneau last week and was due to arrive today. 

  • Roxy September 5, 2016 (9:34 pm)

    Sure hope you Jeep is safe, Shelly!

  • ltfd September 5, 2016 (9:45 pm)

    “What’s the effect of the firefighting foam on the water, fish, people, etc…?” A reasonable question, since the firefighting foam formulations that used to be prevalent were aquatic toxins, often causing fish die-offs when introduced into waterways.

    The Seattle Fire Department uses Novacool UEF (Universal Extinguishing Foam) on all of its apparatus- Fire Engines and Fireboats. Novacool is U.L. certified to national standards (NFPA 18 – Standard on Wetting Agents). In its finished form used for firefighting, 0.4% Novacool with 99.6% water, it is non-toxic to fish fry during bio-assay testing; they can actually live in the 0.4% solution. Novacool has no EPA reportable toxic substances in it.

    • Mike September 6, 2016 (6:55 am)

      wow, I just learned a lot about the foam used to fight fires.  Great information!

  • LarryB September 6, 2016 (12:28 am)

    Can we bill the place the garbage came from? I hear that they can see Putin’s home from there

    • WSB September 6, 2016 (12:43 am)

      I was just doing a little research on that – seems that trash and recyclables from Southeast Alaska have been shipped here for many years. The recyclables are sorted at a local plant; the trash is taken by train to a south-central Washington landfill.

  • weiss September 6, 2016 (10:33 am)

    Perhaps the shipment contained the latest Spinal Tap drummer? 

  • Question Mark September 6, 2016 (12:25 pm)

    WSB, just a note about an issue with your website that I’ve noticed more than once now. It seems that the videos you post with an article appear OK within the article when you open it from its headline, but are sometimes incorrectly linked in the article preview. Right now, for example, the video that shows in place of the fire department briefing is about a motorcycle ride …

    • WSB September 6, 2016 (12:35 pm)

      That’s a caching issue with some browsers, not on our end – don’t know why but some browsers seem to behave that way with YouTube. Try refreshing. Also, try opening the individual story (click on any story headline to open it standalone). Thanks!

  • Chris September 6, 2016 (8:06 pm)

    I work for AML and that barge was one that just got to seattle Monday morning. 

  • pat davis September 6, 2016 (10:44 pm)

    Even though the Fire Dept. ‘product’ to handle the fire was minimally toxic (hopefully) that’s one thing.  Another is what got into the water from the fire itself?  When I  personally saw this fire from I-5 it was much more smoke than these photos show.  It was hundreds of feet into the air and it drifted northward almost to the T-5 area.   Goes to show you what can happen with containers.  yet another reason to really THINK  ABOUT  Terminal 5 full of containers and high density residential all around.  That poison smoke can be lethal and the volume from this fire was huge huge huge!  When I drove over the West Seattle bridge after reporting and filming the fire the Duwamish had massive foam and ‘stuff’ floating all over the place.  This is fish migration.  I did not see any devices on the water to contain the ‘stuff’ from the fire. Why is that?  Again: containers are not just containers. And as they said in the Fire Dept interview: there were containers of propane and also diesel fuel all around. Vapors can ignite and make a fire that becomes an inferno.  Welcome to other concerns for Terminal 5 to think about.

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