16 displaced in 3-alarm fire at Orchards apartment complex (with video)

Fire officials: fire does not appear to have started by fireworks

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter



Fire investigators worked Wednesday to determine what caused a fire that damaged nine One Lake Place condominiums and displaced 16 adults and children Tuesday night.

The American Red Cross is assisting displaced residents by offering emergency lodging, food, clothing, comfort kits and medical and mental health services.

Firefighters worked for five hours to contain a three-alarm fire that burned through the roof of the three-story apartment complex Tuesday evening at 5264 N.E. 121st Ave. in Orchards. All 12 units in the building were evacuated and were empty today.

One firefighter suffered a minor knee injury when he tripped and fell after he was done fighting the fire, Vancouver Fire Department Capt. Scott Willis said. He was transported to a hospital, where he was treated and released.

Firefighters battled the blaze until 1 a.m. Wednesday, but crews stayed on scene through 6:30 a.m. to make sure that the fire stayed out, Willis said.

“Crews did walk-throughs of the building throughout the night,” Willis said. “Something this large, sometimes things get rekindled.”

No damage amount was available, but Willis said it could be extensive depending on whether the owners decide to replace the roof or demolish the building.

Investigators are sifting through the rubble and interviewing witnesses, which Willis said would be a lengthy process. Though there hasn’t been an official cause determined, investigators said that it did not appear to be started by fireworks, Willis said.

Rumors swirled among neighbors that the fire was caused by a barbecue that knocked over, but Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said that wasn’t accurate. She expected the investigation to be done Wednesday or early Thursday.

“When you’re dealing with a dollar loss at this amount, it’s very important to get all facts, interview the right people and perform the right science to determine a cause.”

Vickie Henifin, 56, owns one of the condos in the building. Although it wasn’t damaged by fire, water and smoke have likely ruined everything inside, she said.

She had just sat down to watch TV when she heard a loud knock on the door. When she opened it, a neighbor yelled “Fire!”

“I grabbed my purse, my cell phone and my charger and ran outside,” she said. “I saw flames bursting out and ashes coming down. For 15 minutes I just stood there in shock.”

Henifin bought her condo eight years ago before they were even done being built. She can tell you the date she signed the papers, April 30, 2005, because it was the first place she has owned.

“I can’t believe everything’s gone,” she said. “I work hard for every little bit I have, and now it’s gone.”

Her condo sustained heavy water and smoke damage. She has insurance and is staying with her mom, who lives in town, until she gets things sorted out.

“I just don’t know what the future holds,” she said. “Thank God no lives were lost.”

Dustin Alexenko stood outside the complex this morning, looking up through the window of his third-floor condo. Although he said he likely lost everything inside, Alexenko was not too upset because he has renter’s insurance.

“I walked away with my life; I can replace that stuff,” he said.

View a video interview with one of the displaced residents on The Columbian’s YouTube Channel.