Heirlooms lost in fire at Monroe storage business

MONROE — A three-alarm blaze ravaged dozens of units at a Monroe storage business Thursday, turning heirlooms into ashes.

The stubborn fire damaged 81 of the more than 500 units at Chain Lake Self Storage, a sprawling stretch of sheet-metal buildings north of U.S. 2 along Chain Lake Road. The contents of some units were destroyed, but items in other spaces appeared salvageable.

Firefighters from several departments spent more than 10 hours battling the blaze and mopping up its many hot spots. It was reported around 1 a.m.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Snohomish County Fire District 3 battalion chief LeRoy Schwartz said. Three fire investigators were on scene Thursday afternoon in search of answers.

No damage estimate was available Thursday.

For many, it would be impossible to put a price on what they lost.

“Mine’s completely demolished,” said Gail Crawford, who rented a unit about a month ago after moving from Kenmore to Monroe where she took a new job.

She lost cherished toys belonging to her two grown sons as well as their boyhood photos taken in era before digital cameras.

Gone, too, were keepsakes from her grandmother, including crystal and china place settings.

As devastating as it all seemed Thursday, Crawford said she needs to keep things in perspective. She lost possessions, not a home or a loved one.

“God gives us only what we can handle,” she said.

Many people milled about behind yellow tape separating fire investigators from onlookers. Several craned their necks and counted units, calculating spaces to see if their possessions were burned or spared.

Doug Duncan was one of the fortunate ones. He rented a unit just past the fringes of the fire damage. That turn of luck spared a cedar chest containing family photos dating back to the 1800s.

His son, a Lake Stevens firefighter, was the one who broke the news to him Thursday morning about the storage business fire.

“It scared the heck out of me,” the Marysville man said. “It’s shocking to see all the damage.”

It took more than an hour for Kathie Everaert, 68, to feel some level of assurance that her unit was not damaged. It, too, was near the end of the fire line. She was relieved to realize that her lifetime’s treasures were safe, including a tiny figurine of Queen Elizabeth riding sidesaddle on a horse while saluting troops.

She pointed toward the most damaged units, where all appeared lost.

“They’re disintegrated,” she said.

The fire didn’t reach the business office or caretaker’s residence. Company officials on scene Thursday declined to comment.

Crews were using an excavator to pull sheet metal siding and roofing away from the damaged units.

It was a particularly challenging fire to contain, spreading in both directions from where it started, fire officials said.

“The roof had collapsed and it was too dangerous to go inside,” battalion Chief Schwartz said.

Firefighters have to be careful when blazes hit storage units with a mix of so many combustible materials and the possibilities of ammunition and chemicals inside, Schwartz said.

“It’s the not knowing what’s in there,” he said. “People store everything in those things.”

Ordale Williams and his son, Brent, stopped by the storage site Thursday. Brent recently checked out one of the units and they were considering renting.

Ordale spent 16 years managing storage facilities. During that time, he had seen units used to store all kinds of things, including meth labs.

Most people he rented to decided against buying insurance, he said.

“This should be a good example of why you buy the insurance,” he said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3448; stevick@heraldnet.com

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