Hidden dangers for firefighters: houses converted into apartments


by KREM.com


Posted on November 18, 2013 at 5:44 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 21 at 1:23 AM

SPOKANE, Wash.--More than one dozen people are now homeless after an apartment fire on Sunday and firefighters said the same problem that affected that house is affecting hundreds of buildings around Spokane.

Flames damaged an old home along Olympic and Regal. All 16 people who lived there did make it out alive. A cat died in the fire and two people were treated for smoke inhalation.

Firefighters said the problem lies in older houses that have been modified into apartments or rooms for rent. Firefighters pull up to homes when an emergency strikes and expect to head into a single family home. Then they realize it is much more dangerous.

WATCH: Fire in Hillyard leaves 16 people without a home

“Lots of void spaces, problems with egress, access, and getting around all those segments of apartments,” said Brian Schaeffer with the Spokane Fire Department.

Spokane firefighters are seeing more and more homes modified from a single family structure to multiple families all under one roof.

George Farag has owned the building on Olympic for almost 25 years. He said it is now beyond repair. The Red Cross put everyone from the home up in a hotel.

“I will try to do everything I can to help them, but I don't know what's next,” said Farag.

“I lost important papers, court papers that I had upstairs. The rest of my clothes. I lost a lot of stuff,” said fire victim Kent Judy.

Spokane firefighters said the hundreds of places across Spokane that are modified are never inspected as apartments because they were originally built as a regular house.

The Fire Marshal said owners are supposed to check zoning and get a permit before making changes. KREM 2 News is told that many buildings are modified without the city ever knowing.

Authorities are looking into the possibility that the fire was caused by old wiring. They said it is still too early to say. The official cause remains under investigation.