University District vacant building burns, police seek person of interest

A two-alarm fire swept through a vacant building in Seattle’s University District neighborhood Monday morning. 

Two people were able to escape, but a search for others had to be scrapped temporarily to ensure the safety of firefighters. 

Seattle police said the incident began as an investigation into an incident of domestic violence. By 10:30 a.m., firefighters were deploying a defensive attack as the flames grew. 

The Seattle Fire Department said Seattle police believed two people had escaped the building unscathed before first responders arrived, but crews also wanted to ensure nobody else was inside.

Instead, the fire began to impact the structure’s stability and threatening safety for crews. 

"We had to abandon the search," said SFD’s David Cuerpo, adding up to 90% of the structure's roof had collapsed. 

Eventually, firefighters gained an advantage over the blaze and no injuries or fatalities were discovered. 

Inside the structure, piles of debris and garbage littered the property. The obstacles can become a nightmare for firefighters and exacerbate dangerous conditions. Similar incidents have occurred recently across Seattle. 

RELATED: Two-alarm fire near Seattle's Space Needle sends smoke billowing into sky

Just barely a month ago, firefighters battled a massive vacant building fire near the Seattle Center. The cause for the June blaze is still under investigation. 

On Christmas Eve last year, flames ripped through an old theater in the University District. The flames were intense and destructive. Thankfully, nobody there was injured and a cause of the fire remains undetermined.

Incidents like what happened on Monday is why Seattle runs a Vacant Building Monitoring Program. It is meant to help property owners either keep their buildings occupied, or properly secured so they don’t risk being set on fire by squatters.  

Seattle city officials said typically 200 to 250 buildings are part of the monitoring program every day. Property owners can add their building to the list or neighbors can report them to the city.

The property owners impacted by Monday’s fire hope their construction plans remain on track. Demolition had been scheduled in the weeks to come to allow construction crews to begin developing the property. 

Seattle police are still looking to speak with the person of interest. 

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