Seattle Fire Chief: Fire that killed five started in foam mattress

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by KING5.com

KING5.com

Posted on June 16, 2010 at 3:58 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 24 at 5:39 PM

SEATTLE – The Seattle Fire Department has confirmed what KING 5 News first reported - that the fire that raced through a Fremont apartment, killing a woman and four children, started when a mattress was placed too close to a light bulb in a downstairs closet.

Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean said 31-year-ol Helen Gebregiorgis was asleep on a couch when one of the children reported smelling smoke. When she opened the closet door she saw the burning mattress. She opened a door and a window, intending to air the room out, then went upstairs to open more windows.

While upstairs, she heard an explosion. She grabbed her niece, and ran out of the house. She believed the others were following her but they went into the second floor bathroom.

Dean said the open door and windows acted like a chimney, taking the flames right upstairs.

Killed in the fire were 22-year-old Eyerusalem Gebregiorgis, 22; Joseph Gebregiorgis, 13; Nyella Smith, 7; Yaseen Shamam, 5; and Nisreen Shamam, 6.

Dean said temperatures in the apartment reached 2000 degrees, and firefighters who went into an adjacent apartment and began using their axes to break through to the fire found sheetrock glowing red.

Then there is the subject of the first fire engine to arrive at the scene. An investigation won't be completed until late next week as to why a transmission device to run the pump failed at the fire. The chief says his department takes responsibility for that failure, but the fire grew so quickly, the occupants probably could not have been saved.

"We believe that the size of the fire and the heated gases and that says we were unable to sustain life by the time we arrived," he said.

Fire officials said one of the changes coming out of the tragedy is that they are doing more outreach in the immigrant community, telling people that if they smell smoke and the smoke alarm sounds, get out of the building and call 911.

"The minute you see smoke and that there's a clock ticking," said Dean. "Smoke detectors are signals to leave."

A memorial service for the five victims will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at KeyArena.

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