Overloaded outlets cause of 5-alarm fire that heavily damaged nearly century-old building in Renton

Overloaded electrical outlets in a second-floor boarding room caused the spectacular five-alarm fire the evening of June 11 that heavily damaged a nearly century-old building in downtown Renton, according to Renton Fire Chief David Daniels.

The fire forced residents in the boarding rooms to flee. No one was hurt; but one of the tenants, who was overcome by smoke, was rescued from a second-floor window by fire crews using an extension ladder.

There are 10 boarding rooms that share a kitchen and two bathrooms; seven were occupied.

Power also was restored either very early Friday morning, on June 12, or by afternoon to affected businesses in the block bordered by Wells Avenue and South Third Street. Most were reopening this week.

The two businesses in the gutted building, The Comic Den and A-1 Vacuum and Locksmith, were forced to move.

Fire investigators determined the cause last Friday after the upstairs floor of the building at 232 Wells Ave. S. were made safe for entry. The investigation is now done and the building was released to the owners last Friday, according to Daniels.

The Fire Department plans no action against the owner, Robert Delancey, because any safety concerns the department had raised before the fire had been addressed, according to Daniels.

The tenant in Room 9 was at dinner when the fire started; the building manager discovered the fire after he was alerted by another tenant of a smell of smoke.

“There were too many things plugged in,” Daniels said, including to the room’s only two outlets and surge protectors. The electronic equipment in the room included a mixing board, video boards and a TV, according to Daniels.

The building manager told the Renton Reporter the night of the fire that when he entered the room, he used a fire extinguisher to try to put out a small fire in what he thought was an amplifier. Heavy smoke forced him from the room.

The fire isn’t considered arson – the tenant didn’t “try to make it happen,” Daniels said. Overloading power cords is something people do that “they probably shouldn’t do,” he said. The fire started in one of the components, he said.

The building is uninsured, according to Daniels, and only one of the two businesses affected – The Comic Den – has partial insurance. No damage estimate is available, which is based on insurance loss, he said.

What happens next to the building is up to the owner, Robert Delancey. But, the strong likelihood is that it will be torn down.

There already may be a buyer for the land.

In a major remodel, the owners would have to bring the building to current building and fire codes.

Rooms have been found nearby for the seven tenants in the boarding rooms.

A temporary fence was installed last Friday in front of both businesses.

Wheatley couldn’t place a dollar figure on the loss, although he said it’s “significant.” He sells mostly current comic books and didn’t have “collector’s” comics that would have increased their value. Also, he will be able to salvage inventory, too.

The fire started around 7 p.m. in Room 9, which is in the back of the building. Fire crews fought the blaze from both the front and back of the building, gaining access there from an alley.

Units from Kent, Tukwila, Seattle and the Eastside joined Renton firefighters in battling the blaze, which drew a huge crowd of onlookers.

Dean Bradshaw, who lives in Room 7, alerted the building manager, Roy Beeler, about the smell of smoke and then called 911 from his cell phone.

Bradshaw was sitting at his computer when he smelled smoke.

“I tried to make my way down the hallway,” Bradshaw said. He made it to the front windows. He stuck his head out to get some fresh air.

“I know what smoke inhalation will do to you,” he said Friday.

Alerted by Bradshaw that something was wrong, Beeler went to room 9. He unlocked the door, but only barely opened it in case there were flames inside. He then pushed the door all the way open. What greeted him was “massive smoke.”

He used a fire extinguisher to put out what seemed like a small fire, possibly involving a guitar amplifier.

Within seconds, the room filled with smoke and Beeler was forced to retreat. Feeling his way out, he pounded on doors and yelled for everyone to get out.

“Unless the person in No. 9 was in there dying of smoke, everybody else was safe,” he said, as fire crews battled the fire.

Embraced in a bear hug, Bradshaw was rescued by a firefighter on an extension ladder.

James Stimac was asleep in Room 6 when he heard someone yelling for help.

He opened the front door. The hall was in flames. He slammed the door and put on his pants and glasses and grabbed his phone.

“I got on my knees, opened the door and crawled out, the smoke was so thick,” he said Thursday night as the building burned behind him. “I got out safely.”

Between 110 and 120 firefighters responded to the fire, one of the worst in recent memory in Renton. Between 10 and 15 off-duty Renton firefighters were called in to help battle the fire.

The large response allowed fire crews to take a break for “rehabilitation” before returning to their stations.

Fire crews remained at the scene overnight in case of flare-ups. The fire didn’t spread to adjoining buildings, which are separated by fire walls.

The building was built in 1921, one of the original structures in downtown Renton.

Mayor Denis Law and Jay Covington, the city’s chief administrative officer, were at the scene Thursday night.

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