Fireworks cause duplex fire early Sunday in Vancouver

Firefighters also responded to numerous grass, bark-dust fires overnight Saturday

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

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Fireworks caused a blaze that destroyed most of a duplex early Sunday in east Vancouver, causing about $400,000 in damage to the building and residents’ belongings, according to the Vancouver Fire Marshal’s Office.

It was the most significant fire emergency crews fought overnight Saturday and early Sunday morning, as people continued to set off fireworks around Clark County. Firefighters also responded to numerous vegetation and bark dust fires, most of them caused by fireworks or cigarettes, Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said.

At 3:01 a.m., firefighters were dispatched to a two-story duplex on fire at 1601 S.E. 146th Court, in a cul-de-sac north of McGillivray Boulevard.

“There were fireworks in a grassy area about 24 feet from the home, and it caught the grass on fire and spread to the exterior part of the duplex,” Scarpelli said. “Then the flames spread up the chimney chase and breached into the building at the roof level, and then consumed the house.”

After about 20 minutes of fighting the stubborn blaze from inside the home, firefighters were called outside to attack the flames from the building’s exterior, according to emergency radio traffic monitored at The Columbian. They eventually gained re-entry, and the fire was knocked down by about 4 a.m. All residents of the duplex got out of the building safely, Scarpelli said.

About 75 percent of the duplex was destroyed, displacing residents in both of its units, she said. The occupant in one of the units had renter’s insurance; the occupant in the other unit of the duplex did not, she added.

She called the fire “a very unfortunate situation.” Investigators are trying to determine who set off the fireworks near the duplex.

The duplex fire displaced five adults and three children, according to the American Red Cross. The organization said in a press release that its Cascade Region, which covers Oregon and Southwest Washington, has responded to 16 residential fires since Wednesday.

On Sunday, more than 20 vegetation or bark dust fires were reported across the county, along with several fireworks-related noise complaints, according to 911 dispatch logs.

The Vancouver Fire Marshal’s Office has been patrolling the city and issuing fireworks citations since June 28, and those patrols will continue even though the Fourth of July has passed, Scarpelli said. As of Sunday afternoon, the office had issued 34 citations. Thirty-three were for using fireworks outside of the allowed window of time — 9 a.m. to midnight on July 4 — and one was for using illegal fireworks.

The citations come with a fine of as much as $500.

“We’re doing this for the safety of our citizens,” Scarpelli said, referencing the city of Vancouver’s ordinance that limits personal fireworks use to the Fourth of July only. “The citizens passed this fireworks law, and we need to enforce it.”

Since it began enforcing fireworks rules, she said, the city has seen a decrease in the number of people using fireworks when they shouldn’t and a decrease in the use of illegal fireworks.

Fires were still a problem on the Fourth of July this year, however, in part because of dry, windy conditions and high temperatures. Those hot temperatures continued Sunday, with a high of 95 degrees at Pearson Field in Vancouver, according to the National Weather Service. The airfield hasn’t seen measurable rainfall since June 3.

Because of the dry conditions, “we’ve just been on pins and needles,” Scarpelli said.

Fires on the Fourth

Firefighters were busy in Clark County on the Fourth of July as a suspected fireworks fire destroyed two manufactured homes in the Sifton neighborhood; an 18-year-old man allegedly caused a fire that burned through acres of brush near Andresen Road and Northeast 78th Street (he faces a reckless burning charge); and a barbecue started a house fire in west Vancouver.

Fire investigators on Sunday asked for the public’s help in determining whether the Sifton-neighborhood blaze was caused by someone setting off fireworks. The fire was reported at 1:09 p.m. at 6912 N.E. 131st Ave., in the Sunrise Acres mobile home park. Both manufactured homes that caught fire were considered a total loss, and two cats reportedly died in the incident.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call Clark County Deputy Fire Marshal Susan Anderson at 360-397-2186, ext. 3321.

A field also caught fire during the Independence Day at Fort Vancouver fireworks show Saturday night. It’s not unusual to see “spot fires” underneath the professional fireworks display, Scarpelli said, adding that the fire department had a water tender on standby at the park to handle brush fires. This year, however, the grass fire was larger than normal, she said.

Those in charge of landscaping the fields at the Fort Vancouver National Site could have done more to prepare for the fireworks display by cutting the field “early and often,” Scarpelli said. “They could have cut the grass, in our opinion, a little bit better” and done more to remove dry grass, she said.

The fireworks show paused briefly as firefighters doused the flaming field with water. The Fort Vancouver replica, which was hosed down by the fire department before the show, did not appear affected by the fire.