Arson Dog Sniffing Debris of Wash. Apartment Buildings

July 17, 2013
The four buildings destroyed were still under construction, and had no power.

July 16--An arson dog trained to detect accelerants will arrive today to survey the remnants of a fire that destroyed four buildings at Pullman's Grove apartments over the weekend.

The dog from the Spokane Valley Fire Department was also utilized in a series of 2012 arson fires that destroyed two community centers in a Washington State University-owned apartment complex and ruined lab equipment at McCoy Hall, according to a news release by Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson.

Pullman Fire Chief Mike Heston called Sunday's fire "suspicious" and assigned several officials from the Pullman Fire Department, Pullman Police Department and WSU Police to begin an investigation. Heston said the blaze was labeled suspicious because the apartments were still under construction and there was no heat or power source in the buildings to ignite the fire.

Johnson said fire officials have not ruled Sunday's fire as an arson and are bringing the dog in to determine the fire's cause. He said they do not believe Sunday's blaze is related to last year's incidents.

The fire was first reported around 3:16 a.m. Sunday. It started in the middle complex and spread to three other buildings that were in various stages of construction.

The four buildings destroyed included two 32-unit structures, an eight-unit clubhouse and a 16-unit structure. If the buildings had been completed, their combined value would have been about $13 million, according to records in the Pullman Building Inspection Office.

The fire was contained within about two hours and firefighters managed to save four remaining buildings at the construction site.

The complete devastation of the other four buildings, however, means hundreds of WSU students who already signed leases with the Grove have to find alternative housing.

Terry Boston, assistant vice president for WSU administrative services, said there were 584 beds and 216 two- and three-bedroom units in the eight-building apartment complex. Boston said representatives from Campus Crest Communities, owner of the Grove at Pullman, is on site to assess the status of the remaining four buildings.

The complex was to be ready for students by Aug. 17 and all of the apartments had been rented out. Boston said experts are determining if the remaining four buildings suffered any structural damage due to the heat. It was not known Monday whether any of the Grove apartments would be opened in time for the fall semester.

Alyssa Winnett, a WSU junior communications major, said she was one of the first students to sign a lease with the Grove. She paid her last month's rent of $500 July 1 and was prepared to move in Aug. 17, the day her first month's rent was due.

That was until she saw pictures of the fire on Facebook Sunday morning.

"I was freaking out," Winnett said. "I called my mom and I was like, 'My apartments haven't even been built yet and they're burned to the ground.' "

Boston said WSU officials and Campus Crest are working to address the needs of students who have already signed leases at the Grove. There are rooms available in on-campus residence halls, Boston said, and limited space in university-owned apartments for students displaced by the fire.

Boston said there are also vacancies in other apartment complexes in Pullman, as well as the Grove's Moscow complex.

"Between what we can do as a university and what's out there in the private sector, I am very confident that we'll be able to resolve this issue," he said.

Campus Crest has contacted all of its residents through phone and email about the fire, said company spokesman Jason Chudoba in New York.

Johnson said Pullman Fire Prevention Officer Rich Dragoo is the lead investigator on The Grove fire. Pullman firefighters are being assisted in the investigation by an officer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Johnson said Campus Crest is cooperating with the investigation and paid for the use of an airplane Monday so investigators could use an aerial view to determine where the fire originated.

The fire department is also looking into why two fire hydrants that were said to be operational didn't work the time of the fire Sunday.

There were 15 pieces of construction equipment damaged in the fire, Johnson said. The heat also melted the vinyl siding of two nearby apartment complexes and cracked windows at WSU's Research and Technology Park located across the street from the Grove.

No damage estimate was available Monday, Johnson said.

The construction company will start rebuilding once the site is released by investigators.

Those investigators spent Monday sifting through evidence at the scene, but Pullman Police Commander Chris Tennant said there is no way to predict how long the investigation will take.

"I don't anticipate it being a short-term affair," he said.

Eiguren may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2270.

Copyright 2013 - Lewiston Tribune, Idaho

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!