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Two injured, dozens displaced in Thanksgiving apartment fire in North Bend

Firefighters battle a wind-fueled blaze that gutted units at the Mount Si Court Apartments on Thanksgiving in North Bend. Onlookers described bursts of flame shooting out of the building. One neighbor and a sheriff’s deputy were injured. - Photo courtesy Snoqualmie Fire Department
Firefighters battle a wind-fueled blaze that gutted units at the Mount Si Court Apartments on Thanksgiving in North Bend. Onlookers described bursts of flame shooting out of the building. One neighbor and a sheriff’s deputy were injured.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Snoqualmie Fire Department

It was the speed of the fire that surprised.

Investigators say a smoking accident was the cause of the conflagration that forced out more than 20 people at the Mount Si Court Apartments in North Bend on Thanksgiving night, leaving several units foul, blackened shells, others smoke-damaged and without electricity.

But firefighters say it was the night’s wind gusts that heightened the blaze, which killed two pets, caused a neighbor to suffer a cardiac arrest and required a quick-responding King County Sheriff’s Deputy to be treated for smoke inhalation.

No residents of the burned building were hurt, but all had to evacuate their homes in the fire, the Valley’s largest in at least 12 years.

Snoqualmie Fire Chief Bob Rowe described the blaze as the largest since the 1999 Snoqualmie Winery fire. Thursday’s fire displaced more people than any he recalled in a decade.

“It’s probably the largest fire we’ve had in the downtown corridor in quite a while,” said Ben Lane, an Eastside Fire and Rescue captain.

Many respond, two injured

The fire was reported at about 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 24, when a resident returned to his apartment, opening the door to find smoke and flames.

Neighbors noticed what appeared to be fog rolling outside, then a burning smell, and realized that an inferno had begun. The alarm began to ring.

“All of a sudden, flames just started erupting out of the building,” said Scott, a Mount Si Court resident forced out of his home by smoke damage. “It was bad, fast. It happened so quickly.”

More than 40 firefighters from EFR, Snoqualmie and neighboring agencies responded to the building, located at the 400 block of North Bend Way on the city’s east side.

The first responders were from Snoqualmie Fire Department. North Bend’s District 38 crew was on a CPR call, a backup EFR unit was on an aid call, and another EFR unit was heading to North Bend when the fire call came.

When firefighters arrived, they saw smoke and flames spouting from a ground floor unit.

“Within minutes, it extended to floors two and three,” said Lane.

In a ground-floor apartment, an open door “basically created a funnel,” Lane said. “Wind was coming in the back… just fueling the fire. The best description would be a fireplace flue.”

Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Flohr was also one of the earliest on the scene. He was banging on doors, urging residents to evacuate, when he got engulfed outside the building by a fiery burst.

“He took a pretty solid hit of smoke and heat,” Lane said.

He was evaluated and treated for smoke inhalation, and is now doing fine, Sheriff’s Spokeswoman Cindi West told the Record.

A 38-year-old woman at the complex collapsed in the parking lot of the apartments, and had to be resuscitated and transported for treatment by Bellevue’s Medic 14 unit.

It took firefighters about 40 minutes to get the blaze under control, and they had it mostly out within an hour. Crews stayed all night on a fire watch, but Lane said it never restarted, despite the night’s windy conditions.

County fire investigators believe the fire was caused by cigarette ashes being dumped into a can of butts, which flared up.

In the aftermath of the blaze, King County Metro Transit brought a bus to the building to get fire victims out of the cold.

Six apartments in the 15-unit building were badly damaged, and as of Tuesday, the remaining units were without electricity.

The American Red Cross, Salvation Army and Encompass have been helping displaced residents. Red Cross personnel set up a screening center at the Rock Creek Ridge Apartments, 1525 Rock Creek Ridge Blvd. S.W., just off Ribary Way, south of I-90. Donated items, including clothing, candy and toys, began to come on over the weekend in the Rock Creek office.

People who need help are being referred to the Salvation Army, which is working out of the North Bend Community Church, 126 E. 3rd Street in downtown North Bend, next to the Mount Si Food Bank.

For those who would like to help, clean or gently used clothing may be dropped off at Rock Creek Ridge, call ahead at (425) 831-8500. Kitchen appliances and items, furniture, bedding and holiday decorations for victims may be donated to Encompass; call Stacey Cepeda at (425) 888-2777 or e-mail to stacey.cepeda@encompassnw.org. (www.encompassnw.org) Cepeda is creating a database to meet victim family needs.

Financial donations can be made to the Compassion Ministries Fund at North Bend Community Church; call the church at (425) 888-2711.

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