Massive Inferno Destroys New Wash. Apt. Buildings

July 15, 2013
Students at Washington State University have no place to live when classes start after four brand new apartment buildings burned Monday morning.

July 15--A massive, early morning fire destroyed four brand new unoccupied Pullman apartment buildings Sunday, leaving hundreds of Washington State University students without a place to live when classes start next month.

The 100-feet-high flames claimed half of the still-under-construction buildings in the Grove apartment complex on Terre View Drive in Pullman.

Pullman Fire Department Chief Mike Heston said the cause of the fire is unknown and has been labeled as "suspicious." Heston said because the apartments were still under construction, there was no heat source in the buildings that could have started the fire.

"At this time, this fire obviously looks suspicious, and it's under investigation," Heston said early Sunday morning.

Heston said firefighters received the call at 3:16 a.m. and had the fire contained about two hours later. Heston said the Pullman Fire Department immediately called for backup, and several local units responded, including the Colfax fire department, Moscow city and rural fire departments and Whitman County Fire District 12.

No one was living in the buildings and Heston said there were no injuries. The Pullman Police Department and WSU Police Department evacuated the Boulder Creek apartment buildings to the east of the Grove and WSU's Steptoe Village apartment buildings to the south.

In addition to leveling four three-story buildings, the fire also damaged several construction vehicles and melted the vinyl siding of some Boulder Creek and Steptoe Village buildings.

Heston said many of the construction vehicles on site were full of diesel fuel and gasoline, which ignited, causing several ground-shaking explosions, while firefighters battled the flames.

Started in the middle

The first firefighters who responded to the scene said the fire appeared to start in the middle complex and quickly spread to three other buildings, according to a statement issued Sunday by Glenn Johnson, mayor and Pullman Fire Department public information officer.

Johnson said the fire was so hot that at one point it cracked some windows at a nearby research park about 200 yards away, and melted a street sign across Terre View Drive.

Heston said the small amount of wind Sunday morning worked in the firefighters' favor, making it easier to keep the fire from spreading to nearby apartments and wheat fields.

When firefighters first arrived on scene, they defensively set up trucks and equipment to protect the nearby occupied apartments.

Johnson said at least two fire hydrants that were supposed to be working Sunday did not have water available. Firefighters had to lay hose line from hydrants on Terre View and the nearby apartment complexes.

Andrea Watts, a senior wildlife ecology major at WSU, said she woke up to a knock on her door around 3 a.m. from a neighbor saying there was a fire at the Grove.

Watts said she left her apartment in the Campus Commons complex, about one block southeast of the Grove, and went to watch the fire that was quickly eating away at her future home.

Watts said she had signed a lease to live at the Grove and, like hundreds of other WSU students, she is now trying to figure out what to do next.

No word from owners

The Grove at Pullman Facebook page, where the housing facility has been posting regularly since the page's creation in October, had no updates or information in regard to the fire as of

9 p.m. Sunday.

"The Grove hasn't given any information really about what's going on. Everybody's kind of in the dark," Watts said. "We have to make plans, because now everybody's going to be scrambling to find a place to live."

Connor Reathaford, a WSU sophomore business major, echoed Watts' statement, adding that he would like to know if he will get his $500 first month's rent and $250 community fee refunded.

"I want to know what's going to happen," Reathaford said. "It would be nice to see how much damage was done, a newsletter of what's going to happen, where we're all going to go."

Johnson said in his statement that all of the units in the Grove had been rented.

With four of the apartment buildings in the complex still standing, Reathaford said he would like to know how the Grove will decide who gets to live in the surviving units.

Stephen Holding, parent of a WSU student, said he is also frustrated by the lack of communication from the Grove or its parent company, Campus Crest. He said his son may or may not have a place to live when WSU classes start on Aug. 19, even though he has made payments and signed a lease.

"I would expect the parent ownership is in a major scramble to see who may get to move in, if they can still get an occupancy permit. Meanwhile, a fully-leased complex is silent," Holding said in an email.

A call to Campus Crest, based in North Carolina, went unanswered Sunday.

Lots of amenities

According to its Facebook page, the Grove apartment complex is a community-based student housing facility with multiple amenities, including a clubhouse, 24-hour fitness center, pool, tanning booths, volleyball and basketball courts and a fire pit.

A similar Campus Crest housing facility, also called the Grove, is located in Moscow for University of Idaho students.

Johnson said Heston immediately assigned investigators from Pullman Fire, Pullman Police and WSU Police to begin an investigation into the cause of the fire. Johnson said at this time, there is no dollar estimate on the amount of damage caused.

Meredith Metsker can be reached at (208) 883-4628, or by email to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at: @MeredithMetsker

Copyright 2013 - Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho

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