Improperly discarded cigarettes caused Federal Building fire

By Mark Bowder and John Branton

Published:

Updated: May 20, 2011, 9:33 PM

 
Video

Fire at the Federal Building

Fire investigators determined that improperly discarded cigarettes ignited a long stack of roofing materials on the roof of the Federal Building in downtown Vancouver Thursday, said Firefighter-paramedic Kevin Stromberg.

Vancouver firefighters rushed to a fast-moving blaze on the roof of the Federal Building, 500 W. 12th St., when it was reported at 8:47 p.m.

Stromberg said materials were stacked atop the building because it was being re-roofed. When asked if it was likely that workers on the roof discarded the cigarettes, Stromberg said investigators with the Vancouver Fire Marshal's Office didn't yet know.

Investigators continue working to determine extent of the damage.

Friday night, Stromberg said he had nothing new to report, except that the investigation could take days.

There was enough damage to keep the building closed Friday, but not longer.

“The building will be open for business Monday,” said Ross Buffington, a spokesman for the U.S. General Services Administration’s Northwest/Arctic Region.

Along with the GSA, the building houses offices for the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Defense Contract Audit Agency, U.S. District Court, the U.S. Trustees Program, the U.S. Marshal’s Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In total, about 150 people work in the building, Buffington said.

A federal employee said he had been inside working on his computer, heard sirens and looked out to see fire engines surrounding the building. He said he’d been alone in the building and got out unharmed. No one was reported injured.

Flames 20 to 40 feet high were shooting from the west side of a stack of roofing materials when firefighters arrived less than two minutes after the call, said Capt. Scott Willis of the Vancouver Fire Department.

A column of black smoke was visible from several blocks away, and a commander called for a second alarm.

Minutes later, more than 20 firefighters brought a heavy hose to the roof and started dousing the flames. At the same time, at least one firefighter with a long hook tore the flaming stack apart so water could reach the burning fuel. The heavy stream was so strong that it moved the materials, as well.

Firefighters had the flames under control quickly, in about 15 or 20 minutes.

Had they not taken such fast action, the flames could have ignited the rest of the stack, about 30 to 50 feet long.

Members of Fire District 6 assisted the Vancouver Fire Department.

Willis said there was moderate water damage to the upper floor and slight smoke damage. It wasn’t yet known how much damage was done to the roof.

Efforts were under way to limit water damage to offices inside the building.