Smoke comes up from an apartment complex along West Marine View Drive that caught fire Thursday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Smoke comes up from an apartment complex along West Marine View Drive that caught fire Thursday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Massive Everett fire causes $25 million loss on waterfront

The total loss is likely higher. Developers plan to rebuild. Police seek photos to aid an investigation.

EVERETT — The wreckage of a four-alarm fire still smoldered, but Port of Everett officials said Friday that the Waterfront Place Apartments are still expected to be built, in one form or another.

The 266-unit apartment complex had been under construction on Everett’s waterfront for most of a year, when the more southern of two buildings erupted into a four-story inferno around 5:45 p.m. Thursday. The cause is still unknown, and detectives announced Friday they are seeking fire photos and videos from the public.

An “early conservative estimate” put the loss at $25 million to $30 million, not counting heat damage to its twin apartment building, or the two house fires it caused nearby.

Gusts of 20 mph wind whipped smoke, heat and ash to the east, up a brushy bluff and into the Northwest neighborhood, where historic homes are perched with views of sunsets over Port Gardner Bay. Hot embers as big as two fists crackled and rained onto Grand Avenue, hundreds of feet from the flames. Two houses caught fire along 16th Street, one on Grand, one on Rucker Avenue. Residents sprayed garden hoses on roofs, porches and lawns, as the fire threatened to rip through the neighborhood. Firefighters helped to extinguish spot fires in the brush. Hundreds of people watched as one of the two apartment buildings was reduced to rubble.

Dozens of firefighters responded from all over Snohomish County, sending at least 53 vehicles engines, ladder trucks, ambulances, and so on — to combat the flames. They took a defensive approach to the unoccupied burning building, with no hope of saving much.

It went fast.

By 6:30 p.m., there was little left to burn.

Fire crews arrived from as far south as Shoreline, Bothell, Northshore and Woodinville. A ladder crew from Arlington extinguished one of the house fires on Rucker Avenue.

One Everett firefighter suffered a burn to the hand while moving an ambulance to a safer spot. The rig’s siding was warping in intense heat. The firefighter was treated at a hospital and released, Everett Fire Department spokeswoman Rachael Doniger said Friday.

Extreme heat also broke the windows of an Everett ladder truck.

A total of three Everett fire rigs were being assessed for heat damage: the ambulance, the ladder truck and another engine.

The north building of Waterfront Place, with a planned 135 homes, did not sustain any serious structural damage. The south building had blueprints for 131 units. All that was left standing Friday was a sliver of the northwest corner of the building, wrapped in yellow plywood sheathing, and a few defiant metal beams.

Waterfront Place was set to be the first housing complex of any size on Everett’s re-imagined waterfront, a space with a long history of sawmills and industry, not so much modern livability, until now.

It only took two decades of planning, hurdles and delays.

SeaLevel Properties, of Mercer Island, bought the property for $7 million in 2018. The Port owns the infrastructure, such as lighting and landscaping.

“It symbolizes a vibrancy that’s coming down to the waterfront,” Port of Everett spokeswoman Catherine Soper said Friday.

People eager to live right on the water, with a knockout view of the Olympic Mountains, signed up with enthusiasm to pre-lease the apartments, next door to the brand new Hotel Indigo.

“A long time coming,” read the headline in The Daily Herald, when a groundbreaking ceremony signaled “a new era” for Everett’s waterfront in 2019.

In light of that optimism, the fire is “heartbreaking,” Soper said, but the silver lining is nobody was seriously hurt, and the developers — SeaLevel and Gracorp, of Calgary, Alberta — are “committed to rebuilding.” Exactly what their plan is remained unclear Friday.

“We continue to work closely with the authorities in charge and to provide updates as they become available,” the general contractor for the project, Graham, said in a statement released Friday evening. “We also look forward to getting this development back on track in order to deliver this project to the community of Everett.”

A spokeswoman for the developer group did not return a Herald reporter’s phone call Friday.

“We’re just in a position where we’re waiting,” Soper said. “Investigations can take a long time, and there’s a lot of damage out there.”

Meanwhile, white smoke drifted up from piles of charred, collapsed beams. Power was cut for hours at the marina and hundreds of homes in the surrounding neighborhoods. Everett port operations were back to relatively normal Friday. People stopped by to see the burned building up close, on the other side of a chain-link fence. Upwind from the footprint, near where the windows faced the water, rows of lamp posts stood with no obvious signs of damage.

Federal investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives snapped photos, as local fire crews surveyed the damage, too, from a fully extended ladder basket. Investigators weren’t able to do much, until it stopped smoldering.

They were not close to finding the cause.

“Way too soon,” Doniger said Friday.

Investigators estimate it will take a week to sift through the scene, with the help of heavy equipment from the construction company that was working on the project. One fire engine will remain there for now, to handle hot spots and prevent the fire from rekindling.

Everett detectives are helping with the investigation, and ask the public to submit photos, videos and audio that could help explain how the fire started.

The public can submit media to https://everettpd-wa.evidence.com/axon/citizen/public/2020-66971.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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