LYNNWOOD — A surveillance camera caught a flicker in the darkness, about 36 minutes before the first 911 call.
When firefighters arrived, the flames were 100 feet high at The Reserve senior apartments.
“The embers were the size of Domino’s pizza boxes,” said Battalion Chief Jason Turner. He was on duty with the Lynnwood Fire Department on Jan. 25, the night of the largest fire in the city’s history.
Turner led the firefighting efforts under the command of Doug Dahl, a deputy chief with Snohomish County Fire District 1.
As Dahl headed to the scene from his home in Brier, the fire was so bright it looked like a sunset, he said. As the flames grew, one of the emergency rigs had to be moved back so it wouldn’t melt.
The fire apparently started around 8:51 p.m. on the fourth floor of the apartments, which were under construction. By 9:27 p.m., it drew the attention of neighbors.
The complex at Scriber Lake Road and 198th Street SW had been in the works since 2014, with final permits issued the following year.
Damage to The Reserve alone is estimated to be at least $38 million, not counting the costs of demolition. There was not enough evidence to pinpoint a cause of the fire, but investigators don’t suspect anything criminal. The mayor’s office has reason to believe the developer will rebuild.
The firefighters still are moved by how well everyone in the region came together to protect people and property. More than 100 of them worked the scene, along with an equal number from police, public works and utilities. When south county resources were exhausted, backup arrived from as far away as Stanwood and Gold Bar. The American Red Cross sent 30 people, mostly volunteers.
That night, it quickly became clear The Reserve was lost, Dahl said. The 296-unit building was five stories tall, with only partial sheet rock. As it collapsed in on itself, flames burned in hidden pockets, just like a camp fire.
“It’s open sticks,” Dahl said. “It spreads incredibly fast.”
Metal rods from the scaffolding flew across the parking lot and struck cars. Power poles collapsed and brought down lines.
Crews focused on saving nearby apartment complexes and businesses. They didn’t want to lose the entire block. At least three occupied apartment buildings were evacuated, and one was heavily damaged. The roofs of a business and Northwest Church were hit by burning debris.
The church’s roof, flecked with embers, resembled salami afterward, Turner said.
Lynnwood police conducted door-to-door evacuations. The officers also drove in wide circles around the scene, providing extra eyes in case embers fell on homes.
The most intense firefighting was to the south, in an alley about 60 feet wide between the Reserve and the Lynnview apartments. Those who worked there looked like they had sunburns from the heat, Turner said.
Although crews weren’t sure they could save Lynn-view, and the building had a lot of damage, not everyone who lived there lost their possessions. Dahl remembers watching the siding melt. “It was dripping, just sloughing off,” he said.
City public works staff brought in fuel so firetrucks could stay in place, pumping water. By around 4 a.m., nearly seven hours after Turner and Dahl arrived, they knew they had the fire beat, but not extinguished.
The hoses spewed water for at least 24 hours straight, and hot spots burned for days.
In some ways, they were fortunate, Turner said. Lynnview had sprinklers installed after a fire in 2010. The night was cold and windless, and the trees and ground were moist from recent rainfall.
Two firefighters were injured, but they will be OK. One has returned to work.
For Turner and Dahl, that night likely will be the biggest fire of their careers, and they’ll continue to analyze what happened. They’ll look for ways to improve, like they do after every major incident. They’ll keep on thanking everyone who helped.
A summary of the Jan. 25 fire in Lynnwood
• The Reserve senior apartments, under construction with 296 units, were a total loss. Damage is estimated at $38 million.
• Lynnview apartments, with 36 units, sustained heavy damage from heat, smoke and water. Power was restored Feb. 13. It is up to property owners to make repairs and decide when people can return.
• Tanglewood Apartments were evacuated. Residents have returned.
• Windows blew out at the Picket Hill condos, and the building was evacuated. Residents have returned.
• Northwest Church and a chiropractor’s office likely need new roofs. The church provided first responders with restrooms and tables. The nearby shopping complex with the Jo-Ann Fabric lost power for more than 24 hours.
• The American Red Cross of Snohomish County housed 21 people the first night, and the shelter stayed open for days. Hundreds of meals and snacks were distributed, along with toiletries and blankets.
• Community Transit provided buses to transport those displaced.