Officials concerned by surge in abandoned building fires in Seattle

Alarmed by the growing number of fires at abandoned properties, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins is supporting a new strong-armed solution that cracks down on private property owners in favor of public safety. 

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is on board, pushing for emergency legislation that would amend the city's fire code to order and complete demolition of unsafe buildings.

"We’re still watching the rise in these fires," said Scoggins to the Seattle City Council Tuesday morning. "Clearly to me that says we need to do something different to solve the problem."

According to Scoggins, in just the first four months of this year, his crews responded to at least 30 different incidents at vacant buildings across the city. The data collected by Seattle Fire over the past three years highlights what Scoggins calls an escalating hazard. Back in 2021, crews were sent out 70 times to extinguish fires at derelict properties. In 2022, about 20 more. By 2023, the number had jumped to a staggering 130.

The issue isn't unique to Seattle, as evidenced by a recent fire in Tukwila, where a vacant property became engulfed in flames.

"This is a building that has had previous fires in it," explained Pat Pawlek with Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority. According to Pawlek, homeless people were scrambling out when crews arrived.

The City of Seattle has highlighted at least 100 blighted properties in desperate need of a tear down.

"[The] last thing that I would want is any of our firefighters or community member to be harmed when we could have taken a very intentional step to solve the problem," stressed Scoggins.

IT is a regional problem, now with a local fix. The emergency legislation, backed by the mayor, would allow for the demolition of hazardous properties, with the costs passed back to the owners if they fail to comply.

"If we can't gain compliance, we shouldn't leave these properties to be open-accessed," pointed out Scoggins.


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Council has until mid-May to mull the mayor's proposal over. Both Councilmembers Tammy Morales and Bob Kettle are in support.