(Emily Gillespie/The Columbian)
The body of a man was found in the ruins of an apartment building that burned early Thursday morning in Vancouver.
The fire at Sunpointe Apartments, 900 S.E. Park Crest Ave. broke out about 12:30 a.m. and destroyed six apartments in a 12-apartment building in the complex.
When several 911 calls came in about 12:30 a.m. with witnesses reporting seeing fire in a building, the Vancouver Fire Department immediately called for a second alarm, said Vancouver Fire Capt. Kevin Murray.
“When people are asleep, the danger level goes up exponentially,” he said. “It’s one of those ‘all hands on deck situations,’ with the life safety element.”
When firefighters arrived, they found half of a 12-plex building fully involved in fire, Murray said.
“It was completely devastated,” he said.
Crews attempted to search the units for trapped people, but they were not able to reach the top floor. The concrete stairwell had already been destroyed.
“Due to the intense heat, and the spread of the fire before we got here, they were unable to make it inside the building on the third floor,” Murray said.
Initially, firefighters did not know if anyone was still inside the building.
After the fire was knocked down, the structure was initially too unsafe to search all of the damaged apartments. It took hours to make the complex safe enough to locate and extract the man’s body, which was removed at about 8:30 a.m. The man’s name was not immediately available.
Sunpointe resident Christopher Louie, 35, said he had just returned home from work a little after midnight and taken his dogs outside when he noticed something was wrong.
“What I heard was peculiar,” he said. “I heard some cracking and (saw) light.”
He ran inside and asked his wife, Deborah, to call 911. He looked out of the back patio and saw fire coming out from one of the units below him.
Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said the fire appears to have started on the exterior portion of a bottom-floor unit.
“A gentleman was alerted to smoke alarm going off,” she said. “He realized his patio was on fire, but when he tried to open up his door, he cut his hands.”
That man and the Louies got out and banged on doors to wake neighbors, but when they made their way to the third-floor apartments, no one answered.
The Vancouver Fire Department was assisted by Clark County Fire District 6 and Camas-Washougal Fire Department. Murray said the support is crucial because second-alarm fires require eight engines and two ladder trucks, leaving only two fire engines to cover the rest of the city.
Fire investigators are working to determine the cause of the blaze, but Scarpelli said the initial evidence shows the fire does not appear suspicious.
“We’re looking at other unintentional fire causes at this point,” she said.
American Red Cross volunteers offered care packages to the residents displaced. Red Cross spokeswoman Paula Negele said residents were able to find alternative housing.
The complex was previously hit by arson in 2009 when Randall Gene Leroy, 23, broke into one of the units and set a couch cushion on fire with lighter fluid.