MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Seattle Mayor to address city’s arson problem in vacant buildings

Apr 18, 2024, 10:42 AM | Updated: 11:32 am

Seattle arson vacant buildings...

First Hill fire. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has proposed emergency legislation to address the escalating issue of fires in vacant buildings.

The proposed change to the city’s fire code would empower the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) to order the demolition or remediation of unsafe vacant structures swiftly. Harrell emphasized that these neglected buildings pose risks.

“These dangerous vacant buildings are known hazards that put our first responders and the surrounding community at risk,” Harrell told James Lynch of KIRO Newsradio. “While the City has taken steps to encourage adaptive reuse of vacant structures for new purposes, we cannot allow these unmaintained structures to put lives and property at risk from trespassers, arson, and other crimes. This legislation will give the Seattle Fire Department a new tool to take quick action to remedy derelict buildings that threaten the health and safety of our neighborhoods.”

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Despite efforts to encourage adaptive reuse, the threat from trespassers, arson and other crimes remains. The emergency legislation aims to provide the SFD with a vital tool to safeguard neighborhoods.

The numbers underscore the urgency: 77 vacant building fires occurred in 2021, followed by 91 in 2022 and a staggering 130 in 2023. As of April 15 this year, there have already been 30 fires in vacant buildings. Notably, a three-alarm fire at a vacant apartment building in First Hill necessitated the deployment of over 100 firefighters, displacing residents in a neighboring building and disrupting a major arterial route.

“Fire responses to vacant buildings have continued to trend upwards. When buildings remain derelict, firefighters often observe holes in the floor, missing stairwells, structural instability and other hazardous conditions,” Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said in a news release. “This presents immense danger to those who may be trespassing, to neighboring dwellings in close proximity to vacant buildings, and to the safety of our fire personnel.”

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Tragically, in 2023, three lives were lost due to fires in unsafe vacant buildings. Fire Chief Harold Scoggins highlighted the escalating trend, emphasizing the dangers faced by trespassers, nearby residents and firefighting personnel. Structural instability, missing stairwells and other hazardous conditions persist in derelict buildings, making immediate action imperative.

The legislation, developed in collaboration with Councilmembers Bob Kettle and Tammy Morales, now awaits consideration in the public safety committee. If approved, an emergency clause will enable its immediate implementation.

Bill Kaczaraba is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here. Follow Bill on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email him here

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