EVERETT — Just last week, the Everett Fire Department alerted all of its crews to potential trouble at a warehouse near the mouth of the Snohomish River.
Woody materials stored inside the concrete building caught fire twice last week before Saturday’s three-alarm blaze. The tenant was supposed to have an around-the-clock fire watch over the weekend. That didn’t happen.
The 7-acre parcel at 101 E. Marine View Drive has a long history of regulatory problems.
Various tenants have run operations there over the years, leasing the land from a holding company set up by a longtime Everett family. Garbage, piles of debris and questionable environmental practices have drawn rebukes from city code enforcement officers and the Snohomish Health District, public records show.
At least two former tenants were named in an ongoing multimillion-dollar lawsuit by the property owner over the cost of cleanup, rent and repairs — from before the fire. The health district also successfully sued one of the tenants in 2014 to shut them down over waste violations.
The fire that started Saturday evening continued to burn Monday. In its first two hours, it generated 94 calls to 911.
Firefighters hope to extinguish the last of the flames sometime Tuesday, Everett Fire Marshal Eric Hicks said.
They were using heavy equipment to spread the smoldering piles and tear down the remnants of walls.
“We’re making good progress on it,” he said. “It’s just a massive overhaul process.”
There was no word Monday on a damage estimate but it likely will reach seven figures. The cause remains under investigation, and it’s not yet clear if the fire and last week’s flames were related, Hicks said.
“We want to make sure we interview everybody,” he said. “We want to rule out everything.”
The warehouse building was destroyed. Next-door neighbor Everett Engineering suffered fire damage on one wall but was back open for business Monday, Hicks said.
Before the big blaze, firefighters had planned to meet with the current tenants to find out what was causing the earlier fires and “why they had that much material of that type inside the building,” Hicks said.
He described the debris as dirty wood with a fire hazard akin to bark and compost. Last week, the business was told the materials were not safe to keep inside. The issue “was on our radar,” Hicks said Monday.
Late last week, the second fire damaged the building’s fire sprinklers and the city ordered the fire watch.
“Unfortunately, the person on fire-watch duty temporarily left the building on Saturday night, and it appears that that’s when the fire broke out,” Hicks said.
Despite its ferocity and impressive plume, the fire is not considered a public health risk. The Snohomish Health District, state Department of Ecology and federal Environmental Protection Agency have been monitoring air quality.
State records show at least three tenants since 2013: Busy Beaver recycling, Hungry Buzzard recycling and a company called Eco Fuel, which is owned by the Rubatino family. The company did not return a phone call Monday.
Busy Beaver was shut down after a 2014 Snohomish Health District lawsuit. Busy Beaver and Hungry Buzzard shared at least one owner, a man with a Mill Creek address, state records show.
The recycling companies rented space from the property owners, a holding company called Blunt Family LLC. The holding company filed a lawsuit in 2015 to force tenants to help with the clean-up, as well as to collect money for damages to the site and unpaid fees.
In March, a judge ruled against one of the Busy Beaver business partners and told the property owners to report back with what amounted to a bill. The plaintiff said in court papers filed May 26 that “an appropriate judgment,” including triple damages, would exceed $12 million.
Cory Burke manages the holding company.
“We are devastated about the loss of our building,” he said in an email Monday. “We are extremely grateful that nobody was injured.”
Citing the ongoing investigation, Burke said, “we have no further comments at this time.”
In the lawsuit, the family alleged that the earlier tenants left behind “mountains of unseparated construction debris, unsorted recyclables, unground materials and other garbage.”
“…The refuse and debris was piled nearly to the roof in various places and covered at least 70 percent of the more than 90,000 square feet” available, court papers said.
Also left behind were thousands of tons of ground asphalt shingles. The cost to properly dispose of the asphalt shingles alone was estimated at $1.2 million.
How much of the debris remained on site when the fire occurred was not immediately known, said Heather Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Snohomish Health District.
In February, a health district inspector visited the site. The new company on the site is operating what is called a “material recovery facility” and was meeting regulatory requirements, Thomas said.
Among other things, Busy Beaver ran into trouble during health district inspections for having refuse on the ground near the shoreline. Regulators were concerned that garbage-fouled runoff could get into the river.
Much of the debris was moved indoors.
Separately, Busy Beaver and Hungry Buzzard have been the focus of inquiries by the city of Everett’s code enforcement department.
The department opened three cases at that location between 2012 and 2013, supervisor Kevin Fagerstrom said. All three cases involved debris storage. All were resolved without enforcement action, he said.
The problems involved how the place looked, not health or safety, he said.
“These are materials that are either supposed to be inside a structure or screened from public view,” he said. “They were piling up their construction debris in a fashion that exceeded the conditions of their permit.”
A May 2013 inspection found that materials were being stored too close to the shoreline, among other problems. By December 2013, the tenant had moved out of sight 75 percent of the materials that were causing problems outdoors, according to city enforcement documents obtained by The Herald under state public records laws.
In summer 2014, code enforcement followed up on site, writing in an internal email: “Things look OK.”
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.