Investigators, sources say, are looking into whether the Fremont fire that killed a woman and four children started in a mattress that came in contact with a light bulb.
As investigators focused on a possible cause of Saturday’s fatal fire in a Fremont apartment, Seattle fire officials disclosed Monday that the first-arriving engine that failed to pump water was an older, backup model.
Investigators are examining whether the fire that swept through the apartment, killing a woman and four children, may have started when a mattress inside a closet accidentally came in contact with a light bulb, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.
The fire may have smoldered in the mattress and then exploded into flames after the closet door was opened, the sources said.
Fire Department spokeswoman Dana Vander Houwen declined to comment Monday on the cause of the fire, saying investigators are reviewing everything in the apartment. She said officials also are awaiting test results from the State Patrol crime laboratory.
“That information will be released when the investigation is complete,” Vander Houwen said.
Fire officials said Monday they have no reason to believe the fire is suspicious.
The Fire Department, in a written statement, clarified that the first engine to arrive at the blaze — which suffered a mechanical failure and was unable to pump water — was a 1996 reserve engine assigned to Station 18 because the normal engine, a 2008 model, was in the shop for routine maintenance.
Fire officials said the reserve engine, stationed on Northwest Market Street, had been successfully tested that morning before the fire was reported at 10:04 a.m. The engine, Engine 81, was listed in dispatch records that day as Engine 18.
The department also confirmed that the engine at Station 9, closest to the apartment fire, was on a nonemergency call to a Wallingford retirement home when the blaze erupted.
Four people — Helen Gebregiorgis (Geb-beh-GEORGE-is) and her three children — lived in the apartment, according to Virginia Felton, spokeswoman for the Seattle Housing Authority, which owns the unit. Family members had gathered at the two-story home for a sleepover Friday night.
After the fire erupted on the first floor, Gebregiorgis, 31, grabbed her 5-year-old niece, Samarah Smith, and dashed outside, believing her younger sister was behind her with the other children. Instead, the sister and other youngsters apparently took refuge in an upstairs bathroom, Fire Chief Gregory Dean said Sunday.
Killed were Gebregiorgis’ sons Joseph Gebregiorgis, 13, and Yaseen Shamam, 5, and daughter, Nisreen Shamam, 6; her sister, Eyerusalem Gebregiorgis, 22; and a 7-year-old niece, Nyella Smith.
Autopsies on the five victims were scheduled for Monday. It’s unclear when their cause of death will be released.
John Drengenberg, consumer-safety director at Underwriters Laboratories, a product-safety certification organization outside Chicago, said mattresses long have been a source of fires in American homes.
Federal guidelines, established in 2007, mandate that all mattresses manufactured and sold in the United States must be resistant to open-flame sources, such as candles, matches and cigarette lighters. The old regulations, enacted in 1973, required that mattresses resist smoldering cigarettes, according to Underwriters Laboratories.
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Malfunctioning fire truck was a backup
SEATTLE — Seattle Fire Department officials now say the first engine on the scene of a blazing fire that killed four children and a woman in Fremont was a back-up.
Engine 81, a reserve engine, was being used by the crew of Engine 18 on Saturday while their first line engine was undergoing routine maintenance, said Dana Vander Houwen with Seattle Fire.
But after it arrived on the scene, the transmission broke on Engine 81, and without it, the truck’s pump couldn’t shoot out any water. Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean says the engine was working earlier that day, but as to the main cause of the problem?
“I cannot answer that directly for you,” he said. “We are going to allow the shop to look at that and determine what they see.”
But, it appears no mechanic has even touched the engine since Saturday. Two days after the fire, it’s still sitting inside a shop, surrounded by yellow tape. And there’s a sign on the window telling all workers to stay away from it.
Vander Houwen says an independent expert and an expert from the company that makes that model fire truck will be taking a look at the truck that failed as well as nine other similar trucks, and no work will be done on Engine 81 until the independent investigation gets under way.
Dean had confirmed Sunday that another fire truck – Engine 9 – was nearer the scene of the blaze when the call came in – but it wasn’t used because it was already on a non-emergency medical call.
In addition, he said, the fire hose fell off of the second truck as it rushed to the scene. But he said it wasn’t needed – ironically – because of the equipment failure on the first truck. Crews ended up fastening the hose from the first truck to the second truck.
“I think firefighters did everything they were trained to do,” Dean said. The backup engine arrived 2 1/2 minutes later and firefighters are not allowed to run into a burning building until there is water on the flames, he added.
He said Sunday it is too early to say if the equipment problems kept crews from reaching the victims in time.
“There was definitely a delay in firefighters being able to get there,” he said, but added, “There was a tremendous amount of fire and smoke prior to the fire department’s arrival, which … makes it pretty hard to sustain life in that type of heated environment.”
The tragic events from the fire prompted a change in the city budget.
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