PULLMAN — A fire that destroyed four apartment buildings under construction in Pullman early Sunday has been labeled suspicious, and affects hundreds of Washington State University students who expected to live in the complex when classes begin.
The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reported that some students had already made deposits for apartments in the Grove complex.
Pullman Fire Chief Mike Heston said the cause of the fire is suspicious because there was no heat source that could have set it off. Police and fire officials are investigating.
“At this time, this fire obviously looks suspicious, and it’s under investigation,” Heston said
No one was living in the buildings and Heston said there were no injuries. The Pullman Police Department and WSU Police Department evacuated the Boulder Creek apartment buildings to the east of the Grove and WSU’s Steptoe Village apartment buildings to the south.
The fire was reported around 3:15 a.m. Sunday and took two hours to contain. The 100-foot-high flames claimed half of the eight unfinished buildings in the Grove apartment complex.
Heston said many of the construction vehicles on site were full of diesel fuel and gasoline, which ignited, causing several ground-shaking explosions.
Glenn Johnson, mayor and Pullman Fire Department spokesman, said the fire was so hot that at one point it cracked windows at a nearby research park about 200 yards away, and melted a street sign.
Andrea Watts, a senior at WSU, said she woke up to a knock on her door around 3 a.m. from a neighbor saying there was a fire at the Grove.
Watts said she left her apartment in the Campus Commons complex, about one block southeast of the Grove. She had signed a lease to live at the Grove and, like hundreds of other WSU students, is now trying to figure out what to do next.
The Grove had beds for 584 residents in its eight buildings.
Connor Reathaford, a WSU sophomore, said he would like to know if he will get his $500 first month’s rent and $250 community fee refunded.
In a statement Sunday, owner Campus Crest Communities Inc., of North Carolina, said it was cooperating with investigators and will keep the work site closed until the investigation is complete.
“We are currently working to determine how this event will affect residents who signed leases and plan to communicate those details shortly,” the company said.
Investigators will try to determine if the fire is related to a string of unsolved arsons on the WSU campus in spring 2012, Johnson said.
Four intentionally set fires between May 22 and June 5, 2012, were never solved. Those fires destroyed two community centers in university-owned apartments and ruined lab equipment in McCoy Hall.