Fire damage at least $1 million

EVERETT – Investigators haven’t discovered anything suspicious about a fire that destroyed the Stewart Title Co. building in downtown Everett on Wednesday night, but they still haven’t determined why the fire started, officials said this afternoon.

The fire caused at least $1 million damage. Everett police say they have no evidence at this point to indicate the blaze was intentionally set.

A team of fire investigators from the county was joined today by four federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The building was too dangerous to enter today, but investigators were lowered into the charred remains in a crane and were able to tell where the fire likely started, Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said.

“They remain satisfied that this fire is not suspicious,” he said.

The burnt remains continued to smolder much of the day as fire investigators began work to determine what sparked the massive blaze Wednesday night.

Employees of Stewart Title Co. gathered outside the building this morning to look at what remained of their offices.

Because the company makes extensive use of computer records, which are routinely backed up, the business will continue with little interruption, Carl Jorgensen, the company president, said this morning

“Three years ago if this had happened, we would have been dead,” he said.

The building, which the company moved into seven years ago, is insured, Jorgensen said.

“The fortunate thing is that nobody got hurt or killed,” he said.

As flames and smoke shot hundreds of feet into the air Wednesday night, fire crews worked to save the surrounding buildings.

The fire destroyed the title company office where about 30 people worked.

Every on-duty firefighter in Everett and firefighters from three other departments battled the blaze at 2721 Wetmore Ave.

The fire broke out shortly before 9 p.m. and spread quickly. When firefighters arrived, flames were already licking the ceiling, said Everett Fire Marshall Glen Martinsen. Firefighters who had entered the building were pulled out because their safety was at risk.

“The fire was absolutely beyond control,” he said over the crackle of the burning building.

The fight with the fire on Wednesday was almost immediately a defensive battle, with crews trying to prevent the destruction of neighboring buildings.

“I’m just hoping they contain it,” said Marianne Skotdal, who owns the Wetmore Building, a large office building on the same block as the title company. “I’m very sorry and sad this whole thing happened. It’s devastating.”

She saw the smoke from her home and, hoping it wasn’t her family’s building, walked down to the blaze.

Firefighters don’t believe anyone was in the building when the fire started and, as of 10 p.m., no injuries were reported, Martinsen said.

Firefighters stood on ladders high above Stewart Title, showering water down on the one-story building.

Firefighters soaked neighboring buildings to try to keep flames from spreading. However, wind sent embers flying onto adjacent structures, Martinsen said. He expected the fire to keep firefighters working through this morning. Crews from Marysville, Naval Station Everett and Paine Field Fire helped Everett firefighters extinguish the blaze. The Red Cross provided assistance to fire crews.

The smoke was visible throughout downtown and scores of people gathered to watch the building burn.

“You can see the ashes in the air and black smoke,” 13-year-old Jose Marquez said, standing in an alley, watching. “Picture flames on the top of a building. Picture glass broken and everywhere flames.”

Retiree John Lindsay saw the smoke from his kitchen window and walked to the fire. He watched as firefighters scurried around the building.

“Those are some brave firefighters,” he said. “I don’t know what they get paid, but those are some brave men.”

Stewart Title Co. is based in Dallas. The company also has an office in Bothell, where many employees will work today, Jorgensen said.

Herald writers Kaitlin Manry, Jackson Holtz, Diana Hefley and Eric Fetters contributed to this report.

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