FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Incident commander Lt. James Turpin
Saturday, May 26, 2012 Fire investigator Rich Dragoo
FIRE DESTROYS COMMUNITY BUILDING IN WSU APARTMENT STRUCTURE
Second community building burned in a week
PULLMAN—Pullman fire investigators are calling a fire suspicious that destroyed a community building Saturday morning in the Chief Joseph apartment complex, owned by Washington State University.
Pullman firefighters, along with crews from Whitman County Rural District 12, were called out at 3:31 am for a fully involved structure fire. The community building, off of Terre View and Merman Drives, was located between the B and C complex. The two-story building, that housed no residents, was destroyed. Two outbuildings—both used for equipment storage--were partially damaged by fire. The wall of one apartment building in the C complex, closest to the community building, was scorched by the heat.
A resident who lives above Chief Joseph Village, in the Cedar Ridge Apartment complex, was the first to see the flames and called 9-1-1. When the call came in WSU police officers immediately evacuated the residents in the apartment buildings located next to the structure. WSU police said they drove through the complex on patrol between 30 and 45 minutes before the call, and observed nothing out of the ordinary.
This was the second community building to go up in flames in the last week. On Tuesday morning (5/22) firefighters responded to a fully involved structure fire located in the Nez Perce apartment complex, also owned by WSU. As with the other community building, the structure is only used for meetings and is equipped with tables and chairs. WSU police said in order to gain entry, residents have to reserve the building and check out a key to the structure.
Incident commander Lieutenant James Turpin said when his crew responded from the north station they could see the flames lighting up the night sky. The heat was so intense that several adjacent trees, including a pine tree located between the community building and an apartment, were getting ready to ignite and were cooled off quickly before they burst into flames.
Lead Pullman fire investigator, Rich Dragoo, said that once the fire was extinguished, the building was cordoned off and treated as a crime scene. Although the exact cause of the Tuesday's fire has not been released by the WSU fire marshal, Rod Holmes, this fire was labeled suspicious immediately.
Fire investigators, joined by an arson-trained officer from the Pullman Police Department and a fire investigator from WSU, will be spending most of the day going through the building to determine the point of origin and exact cause.
About three years ago, fire destroyed an apartment building in the Chief Joseph complex. Saturday's fire was between B and C; the fire three years ago was in the D complex. Investigators determined that fire was caused by cooking error and started in the kitchen. After two years of rebuilding and repairs, that building was re-occupied last fall.
The community building was located about 40 yards from the newly refurbished multi-million dollar Valley Road playfield that is equipped with artificial turf. There was no damage to the turf, but some cinders and ashes fell on the playfield.
(Release written by PFD/PIO Glenn Johnson)