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Concern over vacant buildings in Seattle following early morning fire

The Seattle Fire Department said there have been ten fires at vacant buildings so far this year. There were 14 so far this time last year.

SEATTLE — Three fires that ignited overnight Monday into early Tuesday morning all happened in vacant buildings.

One was in Auburn, one in Tacoma, and a third in the Rainier Valley neighborhood of Seattle, which has numerous vacant buildings.

The building that burned down in the Rainier Valley neighborhood was a vacant 7/11. Just four months earlier, the vacant Burger King that was next door burned down as well.

People in the Rainier Valley neighborhood said buildings stay sitting vacant for too long, which they said allows unhoused people to take shelter in them and sometimes leads to issues like fires.

"In that transition process, you get a lot of abandoned buildings which eventually, like over here, you see turned into an apartment complex, but sometimes things take so long things can happen,” said Marcus Williams, who grew up in the Rainier Valley neighborhood and currently works there.

Williams is referring to things like fires igniting in abandoned buildings. He said the vacant buildings make him concerned for people’s safety.

"We don't want nobody to get hurt unexpectedly because nobody had a quick enough plan or a better way to prevent people from getting into these buildings, nobody wants to see someone hurt or die,” said Williams.

The Seattle Fire Department said there have been 10 fires in vacant buildings so far in 2023. They said in that same time period last year, they saw 14 vacant building fires. Just last month, a woman was found dead inside a vacant home in the University District in Seattle following a fire.

Wendy Shark with the City of Seattle's Department of Construction and Inspections said they encourage owners of buildings to not leave them vacant, but if they do, to secure them.

"That means boarding up all the entrances with plywood and it means monitoring their building, you know, going to drive by, inspect it, to make sure everything's still secure and there's no signs of trespass,” said Shark, who shared they see more vacant building fires in the winter months.

Shark said it is not illegal to own a vacant building, but they do want people to report unsafe or unsecured vacant buildings to their department. If you see people inside a vacant building who should not be there, then you should call the police.

“Just know, once we get a complaint, you're going to be under a vacant building monitoring program, and unfortunately we have to fine you for that,” said Shark of how they regulate vacant buildings.

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