Apartment building burns in downtown Everett

UPDATE, 2:20 p.m. Friday: A body has been found at the scene of Thursday night’s fire in Everett.

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EVERETT — Toppled brick walls and debris spilled onto Hewitt Avenue early Friday morning as crews mopped up after a three-alarm fire at a historic downtown building late Thursday night.

The fire started at an apartment complex at 1814 Hewitt Ave., Everett Fire Marshal Rick Robinson said. Most of the streets in the area remained blocked off near the scene.

The fire was confined to the 118-year-old McCrossen Building, located just west of Comcast Arena. The two-story brick structure was built in 1894, and for decades has been home to businesses at street level and 13 apartments above. The structure is on the city’s master list of historic downtown properties.

» Photo gallery: Downtown Everett fire

Tenant Steve Cotter, 56, lost everything in the fire, including a Coca-Cola memorabilia collection owned by his late mother, and a certificate celebrating his grandfather’s service in World War II, he said.

He’d lived at the complex about three months. He was baking Thursday night where he heard a ruckus in the hall, he said.

“I opened up the door and a big cloud of smoke hit me in the face,” he said.

He turned off the oven, grabbed his coat and ran for the front door. It was only about 10 feet, but he couldn’t see anything but smoke, he said.

He returned Friday morning to survey the scene while he waited for news of a new home, chatting with friends who lived across the street.

“The only thing that looks normal in my place through the holes in the wall is my kitchen cabinets,” he said.

The building sustained heavy structural damage.

Several other buildings in the area were evacuated Thursday night due to thick smoke.

People who lived in the complex were sheltered overnight by the American Red Cross. Comcast Arena also opened its doors Thursday night to let people in from the cold.

The fire was first reported about 9:30 p.m., Robinson said. Firefighters from around the county remained on scene overnight and into Friday morning. The fire was mostly knocked down by about 3:30 a.m.

Two people who had been watching downwind were taken to a local hospital Thursday night with possible smoke inhalation, Robinson said. The cause of the fire remained under investigation.

Jerry Ott, 40, was one of the neighbors across the street who watched the fire after being asked to leave his building.

Flames seemed to shoot 30 to 40 feet in the air, he said. People were outside, talking and crying, late into the night.

“It was hectic out here,” he said.

The owner of the building next door, Brad Seltzer, and his wife, Kathy, waited outside Friday morning with one of the accounting firm employees, Laura Antillon.

“We fared so much better than I feared,” Antillon said.

The Seltzers were on scene until about 1 a.m. Friday, Kathy Seltzer said. Their alarm company called them shortly after the fire broke out.

“The smoke was so bad, you could smell it for like a mile before you got here,” she said.

People were watching the fire from all over, including nearby rooftops, she said.

“It got to the point that it was so cold we had to go,” Kathy Seltzer said.

They returned just hours later, and they could still see wisps of smoke and hear bricks cracking, she said.

“The firefighters were relentless,” she said. “They were amazing.”

At one point Friday morning, firefighters stepped into the building next door to grab a file for one woman who had a hearing in court. The woman expressed gratitude as she rushed away.

The Seltzers expected it will be several days before they’ll know when tenants could return.

The American Red Cross estimated nearly 40 people were displaced, said Chuck Morrison, executive director for the Snohomish County chapter.

Nine Red Cross volunteers were on scene Thursday night, though many of the local volunteers remain on the East Coast for Hurricane Sandy relief, Morrison said.

People were housed overnight at a nearby church. Efforts Friday were expected to focus on finding them temporary housing and food and replacing lost clothing and prescriptions.

According to the Everett Public Library, the McCrossen Building was built for grocers Thayer and McCrossen as part of the initial burst of construction in the city. For a time, the post office was located on the ground floor.

Power to the downtown area was shut off for some time overnight to prevent live power lines from snapping and falling onto people near the scene, Robinson said.

Herald writer Scott North contributed to this story.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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