TUKWILA, Wash. — Firefighters continued extinguishing hot spots Wednesday morning at the scene of an apartment fire in Tukwila that claimed the lives of a man, woman and female child Tuesday morning.
A landslide risk near the apartments prompted evacuations in neighboring buildings. People were let back into their homes by Tuesday night.
The Tukwila Fire Department and crews from multiple other agencies responded around 5 a.m. Tuesday to the Maple Crest Apartments, located on the 1500 block of 65th Ave. S.
Crews reported heavy fire on the back of the building where a steep hill made it difficult to access and get water on the flames, which continued to burn six hours after the initial call.
The three people who died were found in the same ground-floor apartment. Their bodies were recovered by firefighters, but no further details have been released, according to Jason Konieczka, public information officer for Tukwila Fire.
Four others were treated for injuries at the scene.
Firefighters will likely stay at the apartment complex through Wednesday to monitor hot spots and ensure the fire does not spread to neighboring buildings, Konieczka said. The fire was under control as of 11 p.m. Tuesday.
Around 10:20 a.m., Tukwila police began evacuating nearby structures along the 15900 block of Interurban Avenue South due to the landslide danger, along with other neighboring apartment buildings. An approximate 65-foot drop is directly behind the apartment complex. The soil behind the building was thought to be unstable due to the amount of water used to extinguish the fire.
Engineers determined the hillside is safe from collapsing. A portion of Interurban Avenue South was closed for hours but reopened late Tuesday.
Konieczka said the building did not have fire sprinklers, but it was equipped with smoke alarms. He said the building was built before fire codes required sprinklers and that it is not illegal to not have sprinklers.
He said fire investigators are working to interview every tenant to determine if all the smoke alarms and detectors were activated properly.
After learning of the three people who died in the fire Tuesday morning, Tukwila Fire Chief Jay Wittwer said, "had there been fire sprinklers in the building, we may have had a different outcome."
Tukwila Police Chief Eric Drever said detectives would be investigating the deaths.
Building resident John Thomas was among the dozens living in the Maple Crest Apartments when it went up in flames.
"We were woken up by the fire alarm, and one of the neighbors was running through the apartment complex banging on doors yelling, 'You guys gotta get out, you guys gotta get out,'" said Thomas.
After hearing the warning, Thomas said things "escalated very quickly."
Thomas' priority was getting to safety. He didn't think about grabbing valuables or his father's urn.
"We just grabbed what we could and got out of there," he said.
Now, Thomas and the residents displaced by the fire have to make hard choices about what to do next.
"Every time I think about it, I'm like, damn, what're we gonna do next? But hopefully, it'll work out. God has a plan for everybody,” he said.