Fire levels Vancouver apartment complex

Four-story building was under construction

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

Updated: June 20, 2014, 10:01 AM

 
Under construction apartment fire

A two-alarm fire leveled a four-story apartment complex under construction in east Vancouver early Friday morning.

A member of 24-Hour Fitness, 800 S.E. Tech Center Drive, saw the flames coming from the four-story complex at about 3:20 a.m. and called 911, said Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli.

About 40 firefighters from the Vancouver and Camas-Washougal fire departments responded but were unable to save the building, which had been framed but lacked any fire protection features.

“It was completely involved,” Scarpelli said. “Firefighters took a defensive attack on this fire to protect any exposure.”

There were no reported injuries.

Scarpelli said the Columbia Tech Center Lofts, planned as a 90-unit complex just south of Mill Plain Boulevard near Southeast 177th Avenue, was about 50 percent complete. The construction project has a price tag of more than $4 million, according to building permits. Scarpelli said because it hadn’t been outfitted with all its amenities, she estimated the financial loss somewhere between $3 and $3.5 million.

Natural gas helped to fuel the flames until a utility crew shut off the line, but Scarpelli said the blaze burned the complex “to the ground.”

Scarpelli said the circumstances of the fire are unusual, and the agency’s arson investigation team is looking into the fire. She said investigators looking for the cause of the fire will likely bring in a dog trained to detect accelerants.

“It’s highly unusual when you have a building this large, this fully involved,” she said.

The investigation will take some time, Scarpelli said, because the debris has to cool down enough for investigators to access the scene.

Firefighters stayed at the scene of the fire, monitoring hot spots until about 2 p.m. Friday. The fire is expected to smolder over the next few days, but the Vancouver Fire Department has contracted with a private security company to keep the scene secure. Investigators plan to check on the temperatures at the scene two or three times a day.

“We’re forced to delay the physical scene investigation until Sunday or Monday, depending on temperatures on scene,” Scarpelli said.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the lead investigator Deputy Fire Marshal Chris Drone at 360-607-7991.

The complex was being built in the Columbia Tech Center, a 412-acre development launched in the mid-1990s in response to Clark County’s rapid residential growth. The tech center now includes 2.7 million square feet of retail, office and residential space. The lofts were being built just north of the Columbia Tech Center Park and Amphitheater.

The owner of the project is Pacific Realty Associates, a Portland firm, and the contractor is Gaither & Sons Construction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.