PULLMAN, Wash. - The company that owns development of "The Grove" apartments in Pullman that burned to the ground over the weekend said it is working with WSU students to find alternative housing before the start of the fall semester. That day is coming up in August.
"I was actually looking at moving a couple months ago, and I considered The Grove," said WSU student Samantha Barber. "And so, I'm really thankful that I'm not in that position, but I feel really bad for all those people involved.
Barber and a fellow classmate were working on a video editing project with the fire's glow alerted them to call 911.
"I've seen some fires but definitely nothing of that scale," said Chris Antes, another WSU student.
Firefighters said fuel tanks on construction equipment exploded on the site of the complex.
"It definitely felt like a huge mortar explosion. Very loud. Kind of felt it in your chest."
The Pullman Fire Department said the fire appeared to have started in the middle of the complex and spread to three other buildings under construction. It burned all four buildings down and it was so hot that officials said it cracked windows at a nearby research park 200 yards away. It also melted the siding off of several nearby apartment complexes.
Fire investigators said they spent the day looking for possible sources that could have sparked the devastating fire. They plan to bring a dog to sniff out any chemicals that could have been used to start the blaze, assuming it was intentional.
"This is a serious situation for us," said Pullman Fire Chief Mike Heston. "We are taking this very serious, especially when you start endangering people's lives as well as firefighters."
KREM 2 News was told that all units in "The Grove" were rented out for the fall semester and the entire complex could house nearly 600 people. The company that owns it said it is confident that it will be able to provide alternative housing for those affected.
Fire investigators returned to the scene Monday of a massive apartment complex fire that burned over the weekend. Firefighters are working to figure out what sparked the fire, which destroyed part of the complex which was under construction.
Fire ripped through four buildings at “The Grove” apartment project early Sunday morning in Pullman. The apartment complex was set to house hundreds of Washington State University students for the fall semester.
A spokesman for "The Grove" said the affected residents are the center of their focus in a statement on Monday.
"Ensuring that our residents are well taken care of is our top priority. We have been in active communication with the University regarding yesterday's fire and school officials have been incredibly supportive. While we are still working through a number of details, we are confident we will be able to provide alternative housing accommodations for all affected residents. We have reached out to our residents and will share additional details with them once plans are finalized over the next few days. We appreciate our residents' patience as we thoroughly assess the situation."
"These were supposed to be like the dream apartments at Pullman,” said WSU student Alexis LoCicero, who is now worried about where she will live when school starts. “Everyone was talking about them. They were so excited."
Firefighters responded to flames at the construction site just off NE Terre View Drive around 3 a.m. Crews were able to save four buildings but the fire destroyed four others. No one was injured.
First responders said the fire started in the middle of the complex and spread to three other units that were under construction. Those on the scene heard at least three explosions as the fire reached the gas, diesel or propane tanks on the construction equipment.
The fire was so hot, authorities say it cracked windows at a research park about 200 yards away and melted a street sign across the street.
Fire crews were able to get the fire under control about two hours after the fire broke out. Firefighters remained on the scene for several hours cleaning up and carrying out an investigation.
Two nearby apartment complexes, Boulder Creek and Steptoe, suffered heat damage to the siding but all units are still usable. Several cars were also damaged by the heat.
There was also fear that the fire would spread to a wheat field about 400 yards away. Firefighters say the weather helped them keep the blaze contained.
“The Grove” apartments were set to open in August to offer housing to WSU students. The apartment complex is under construction by a North Carolina firm. They told firefighters that all of the units had been rented for the fall semester that begins August 19.
"So now we're all just scared if we're going to have somewhere to live, what's going to happen, do we need to find a new place to live or what,” LoCicero said.
There was no dollar estimate yet on the amount of damage to the complex.
Fire chief Mike Heston called the fire “suspicious” and immediately assigned several investigators from Pullman Fire, Pullman Police, and WSU Police to begin an investigation.
Housing officials at WSU are in contact with the owner of "The Grove", Campus Crest, on how to assist students impacted by the fire.
The Assistant Vice President for Administrative Services, Terry Boston, said the college has space available in on-campus residence halls and limited space in university owned apartments for those displace by the fire. Boston also said there will be a clearer picture in the next 24 hours of how Campus Crest and the college will proceed and what options are available.