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Tukwila apartment complex that burned down was one of 'hundreds' without sprinklers in Seattle area

As the last few hot spots of an apartment fire in Tukwila are being put out, some are wondering why the fire could’ve gotten so bad in the first place.

Fire crews in Tukwila are still monitoring a fire at an apartment complex that left three dead and dozens of others displaced.

But as the last few hot spots were being put out Wednesday, some are wondering how the fire could’ve gotten so bad in the first place.

“Why didn’t this building have fire sprinklers?” Tukwila Fire Chief Jay Wittwer asked.

The question raises a serious issue, and not just for Tukwila residents.

“There are dozens of buildings in the City of Tukwila,” Wittwer said. “But more importantly, for the public that’s out there, there are literally hundreds of occupancies throughout the Seattle area that are not sprinkled.”

So where were the sprinklers for Maple Crest Apartments? Since the complex was built in the early 60’s, building codes didn’t require the building to have any installed.

But when the building codes were updated, the building wasn’t.

Wittwer said costs play a big factor in why older buildings like Maple Crest don’t have these systems in place.

“It is very, very expensive to place and have retrofit done to an existing building,” Wittwer said. “So that changes the conditions of affordable housing on a property like this.”

Despite the costs, the need for a sprinkler system was clear Tuesday morning as a fire ripped through the apartment complex. Fire crews battled 50-foot flames as best they could when they arrived at Maple Crest, but the complex was completely destroyed in the end.

A sprinkler system could’ve helped, Chief Wittwer said.

“Our people that responded to this call did the absolute best work they could do to evacuate the people out of the building, three people were not able to,” Wittwer said. “Had there been sprinklers in this building, we have seen across the nation that with buildings that do have sprinklers, we have a different outcome.”

KING 5 reached out to the owners of Maple Crest Apartments to find out why a sprinkler system was not put in place, but they were unavailable for comment.

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