BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Flames engulfed a three-story building at a Bellevue apartment complex Tuesday, sending seven people to hospitals and drawing about 100 first responders, fire officials said.
Investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms were on scene to assist arson investigators from the Bellevue Police Department. They said after talking with witnesses and collecting evidence at the scene, they decided to shift the case into a criminal investigation, but declined to specify why.
Bellevue Fire Department Lt. Rich Burke said the debris field around the fire was unusual.
"Most times with structures, debris falls into the building," said Burke. "This, we have some debris on the outside the building, as you can see. Pretty obvious. So that's part of the investigaiton."
Bellevue police towed a red sports car from the scene to the evidence locker at their city hall headquarters. The car had been parking outside the apartment building.
The hospital received two men. One was in serious condition in intensive care and the other was in satisfactory condition, spokeswoman Susan Gregg said.
Three people were at Harborview, ranging from satisfactory to serious conditions. Four others were taken to Overlake Hospital. They included a firefighter who cut her hand, Burke said.
There were multiple 911 calls when the fire broke out at about 6:30 a.m. at the Hampton Greens, a complex with about three dozen buildings on 16 acres. One woman called 911 saying she was trapped in a third floor unit. Some witnesses say they saw people jumping from upper floors to flee the fire.
There were initial reports of an explosion, Burke said. It took about an hour-and-a-half to control the fire, and there were about 80 firefighters from Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland at the scene, along with about 20 police officers, he said.
Cassie Howard left all her belongings behind, some of them irreplaceable -- like her cat, Ellie.
"The only thing I really care about is my cat, I don't care about my stuff at all, I just want my cat,” she said.
Howard got some good news – firefighters were able to find her cat in the debris, dirty and scared but OK.
The fire destroyed one three-story building with 10 units. Firefighters would have to remove a heavy tile roof before investigators could go inside. It may take days for police and fire investigators to determine the cause, he said.
Displaced residents were sheltered in a bus and are receiving aid from the Red Cross.