Fire offers lessons for all

The fire that gutted a Mukilteo home on Nov. 20 is a cautionary tale for Snohomish County residents — not just the Mukilteo neighbors who also live on the steep waterfront bluff. The same challenges exist at fires in rural, remote or private areas of the county that lack hydrants.

As The Herald’s Rikki King reported, crews responding to the Mukilteo fire were challenged by a winding, one-lane private road that was too narrow for their biggest rig. When they arrived, the closest fire hydrant was 1,200 feet away, despite maps shared by south county fire departments that showed a hydrant closer to the house.

After the fire, Mukilteo, Lynnwood and Fire District 1’s leaders went over their maps to make sure they were all working on the same page. That’s important.

But if neighbors are concerned about the lack of hydrants or room for fire trucks on private roads, they need to pay for those changes.

That goes for people living in many new developments, as well.

In 2006 and 2007, before the recession halted the explosion of new housing developments, fire officials warned Snohomish County officials about the lack of access for responders to such developments, sometimes called “air condos” in unincorporated areas. The projects bypassed county rules for open space, parking and landscaping that apply to traditional housing developments.

The highest concentration of projects is in the south part of the county, where some are as dense as 30 lots on less than 5 acres. In 2006, District 1 Deputy Fire Chief Steve Sherman said some houses and fences are so close together that there isn’t enough space for rescue ladders to safely reach bedrooms.

Unfortunately, Snohomish County was without a fire marshal during the rapid growth period. The county’s former planning director, Craig Ladiser, was handling those duties.

“Not having a fire marshal has probably delayed our sensitivity,” to the firefighters’ concerns, Ladiser said in 2006. “With an advocate, we probably would’ve understood the problem much quicker.”

Ladiser was fired in 2010 after assaulting a building-industry lobbyist at a golf tournament; he later pleaded guilty to one count each of fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation and indecent exposure.

New rules regarding future developments were later approved in 2007. With construction picking up again, it’s also good to know that Snohomish County has a separate planning director and fire marshal.

Whether you live in a new development, an old one, a remote area, or an exclusive one, it’s up homeowners to make sure their dwellings and developments are up to up to code, and that firefighters can reach them if needed.