On June 4, 2016, a fire destroyed a riverfront warehouse in Everett. The $10 million in damage prompted a lawsuit. (Vanessa McVay / The Herald)

On June 4, 2016, a fire destroyed a riverfront warehouse in Everett. The $10 million in damage prompted a lawsuit. (Vanessa McVay / The Herald)

Legal battle over $10M warehouse fire rages a year later

EVERETT — In June 2016, a massive fire burned a riverfront warehouse in Everett to the ground.

A year later, the property owners, the tenant and another company still are fighting in court over who is responsible for the damage amounting to $10 million. The trash-covered site, which was rented as a recycling center, has logged legal problems since at least 2014. Damage from the blaze led to a new lawsuit that was filed in September.

The fire destroyed the recycling center along East Marine View Drive. Investigators could not determine the cause because it wasn’t safe for them to go inside what was left of the building. The warehouse had been the focus of numerous code enforcement and safety complaints before the fire.

The health district had found that trash was kept too close to the river, threatening contamination. Fire officials noted the mountainous piles of flammable wood that nearly reached the ceiling.

The 7 acres of land is owned by a holding company, Blunt Family LLC, which is run by a longtime Everett family. They claim in court papers that one of their tenants is financially responsible for the fire damage, along with the business that installed the warehouse’s fire-protection sprinklers. The Blunt family and an insurance company filed a lawsuit last year that accuses the other parties of negligence.

A resolution might take up to 18 months, said Whitney Smith, a Seattle attorney representing Burns Fire Protection Systems, the Granite Falls company that provided the sprinklers.

The tenant was an Everett-based recycling company called Eco Fuel. Its attorney did not return phone calls for comment. The Blunt holding company also did not respond to an inquiry for this story.

In court papers, the holding company blames Burns Fire Protection Systems for not ensuring the warehouse’s sprinkler system was operating properly. The sprinklers were designed to spray water if smoke was detected from a fire. The lawsuit alleges that missteps by the tenant and the sprinkler company delayed the notification to 911.

Combustible materials ignited two fires in the week leading up to the blaze, one of which had damaged the sprinklers.

In a recent interview, a lawyer for Burns Fire Protection Systems said the company never entered into a maintenance contract and is not responsible for sprinkler upkeep. The business denies any liability.

The site has a history of tenant troubles.

State records show at least three renters since 2013: Busy Beaver recycling, Hungry Buzzard recycling and Eco Fuel, which is owned by a member of the Rubatino family. The Rubatinos have long operated garbage collection service in Everett.

After the fire, the Blunt family declined to discuss whether Eco Fuel would remain a tenant. The company’s state business license is set to expire next month.

The fire damage also is not the first issue on site to prompt a lawsuit.

In 2014, the Snohomish County Health District sued Hungry Buzzard recycling over waste violations, and shut down the business.

The next year, the Blunt family sued Busy Beaver and Hungry Buzzard. A judge ordered the tenants to pay for cleanup, damage to the site and unpaid fees.

The judge’s order was issued June 3, 2016. It required the tenants to pay the Blunt family $12.6 million. That was the day before the big fire.

The riverfront property caught the attention of not only the courts, but fire officials as well. Around that time, the city had instructed Eco Fuel to appoint an around-the-clock fire watch. That was because of earlier problems with the flammable materials. The person on watch reportedly had stepped out of the building when the fire broke out.

When firefighters arrived at the recycling center, flames reached 50 feet tall. They worked for three days to stamp out hot spots.

East Marine View Drive, a thoroughfare for Everett’s industrial waterfront, looks downhill on the former warehouse site. A year later, only heaps of burnt debris remain.

Reporter Rikki King contributed to this story.

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com.

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