Giovanni Di Quattro, owner of the Rainbow Café, watched nervously as firefighters battled the three-alarm fire billowing out of the Heritage Building at 134 E. Main St., late Tuesday afternoon, just east of his restaurant.
It was one of his cooks who discovered the fire, which ignited in a laundry room of the two-story building.
“I just hope they can keep the fire from spreading,” Di Quattro said.
Eric Robertson, Valley Regional Fire Authority administrator, said: “We’ve been told that it started as a dryer fire. They’ve put an immense amount of water on it to put it out. And as you can see … they’re trying to ensure it doesn’t spread to the next building.”
The 21,000-square-foot, historic Auburn Heritage Building, constructed in 1921, according to the King County Assessor’s Office., is of mixed use, part residential, with apartments and commercial spaces but it was burning east, west, front and center. The building housed 35 residential units and 12 businesses.
There were no reported injuries to firefighters, the VRFA said.
Several individuals were evaluated for smoke inhalation, but no one required transportation to a hospital, the VRFA reported.
Firefighters had to help one occupant, a bed-ridden man, who was unable to self-evacuate. All other occupants escaped on their own.
The building manager confirmed that all residents were accounted for, and a Metro bus was brought in to keep residents warm. The Red Cross set up a shelter at Cascade Middle School for all displaced residents, the VRFA reported.
One dog succumbed to smoke inhalation, City officials said.
The call came in to the VRFA at 2:54 p.m.
By 4:30 p.m. Puget Sound Energy had shut off all the gas to the building but had not yet succeeded in turning off all the power.
By 6:10 p.m., firefighters said all but 10 percent of the roof was lost.
VRFA crews and the Kent-based Puget Sound Fire Authority, Tukwila and South King Fire & Rescue all brought their ladder trucks, four in total, but the fire showed no signs of abating.
“What we’ve been told is that it started in the laundry room, and unfortunately there are no sprinklers in the building,” said Mayor Nancy Backus. “That’s why you see four ladder trucks and still see all of the flames.”
Fire crews worked well into the night and early morning to douse and tame the fire. Crews contained the fire to the building of origin, preventing it from spreading to nearby structures. After several hours firefighters were able to get the fire under control and remained on scene through the night to watch for flare-ups.
Auburn Police sent up a drone early Wednesday morning to assess the damage and to determine whether fire inspectors could safely enter the building, but as of 11:30 a.m. fire officials had not been allowed inside. Until that happens, any determination of whether the building can be saved will have to wait, but with sky visible through all the broken windows, the second floor seemed to be a total loss.
Businesses housed in the building, among them Henry’s Home Plate Tavern, sustained catastrophic damage.
Also, the building sustained considerable water damage.
U.S. Congressman Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, offered his reaction.
“I’m saddened to hear that the Auburn Heritage Building, a 96-year-old institution in our community, has gone up in flames this evening. My thoughts and prayers are with the first responders attending to the devastation, and with those who lost their homes and businesses in the fire,” Reichert wrote in a tweet.
Backus added: “Our heart is heavy as a community for the families and business owners who have lost so much, but I am also uplifted by the immense outpouring of love and compassion from our city and region during this difficult time. I am also deeply grateful to our first responders whose skill and dedication ensured that this event did not become a larger tragedy. We will work together in the coming days, weeks and months to assist all involved in any way possible with their recovery.”
Roads were closed at Main Street between Auburn Way and Auburn Avenue and will remain closed to through traffic until further notice; however, businesses on the north side of the street may still be accessed by foot..
Because of the extensive damage to the structure, the City has posted an order of no entry to the entirety of the building.
Several agencies helped the VRFA including South King Fire & Rescue; King County Medic One; Puget Sound Fire Authority; Tukwila Fire; Renton Fire Authority; East Pierce Fire & Rescue; King County Fire District No. 20; Zone 3 Fire Rehab; Zone 3 Fire Explorers; Auburn Police Department; City of Auburn Streets Department; City of Auburn Water Department; City of Auburn Maintenance and Operations; Puget Sound Energy and the Red Cross.
The Soup Ladies and McDonald’s supplied food and beverages for first responders.