A cigarette left smoldering Sunday caused an estimated $60,000 in damage to the shop for Doug's RV in Startup — no one was inside at the time.
The structure was used as a storage area and shop. It caught fire at an unknown time that afternoon, said District 5 Fire Chief Merlin Halverson. A witness reported what was believed to be steam on an initial walk by. On the way back, the passerby saw “flames licking above the building,” Halverson said. The call came in around 2:34 p.m., and responders arrived eight minutes later, he said.
Aid also came from Fire Districts 7 and 26, as well as the Snohomish Fire Marshal Gary Bontrager, Halverson said. It was a standard response for a fully involved commercial structure fire. However, the many propane tanks being stored inside and outside of the building caused complications, he said.
The containers usually have valves that can release pressure built up from exposure to high temperatures, but the devices can potentially fail under those circumstances, Halverson said. In a previous incident, he said, “we had one explode and go through a metal desk, and through an outside wall, and razor sharp shards of it ran 75 feet into the yard,” he said, adding “none of that happened, fortunately” on Sunday.
Crews first checked to see if anyone was inside the building, then went on to protect exposures, or “anything it (fire) hasn't already burned.” In this case that included anything threatened around the building, such as trees, a tractor or other tanks. Cylinders inside the building were also targeted with hose streams, he said.
Robert Sackman, the owner's son and Doug's RV employee, said the shop has been in the same place for 27 years.
“It is a total loss,” he said.
Right now the family is looking into what insurance might cover, “but it's irreparable,” Sackman said.
Bontrager said the fire is classified as accidental. He arrived to investigate the cause about an hour after first responders made it to the scene, when crews were “finishing final suppression of the fire,” he said.
The determination was made based on eyewitness accounts and fire patterns, Bontrager said. The fire started low to the ground, he said.
Years of schooling go into learning how to read fire patterns, Halverson said, but “frankly, it wasn't too hard to figure out.” The scorched areas act “kind of like an arrow pointing,” he said.
A family member who lives in a travel trailer on the property admitted to having been the last person in the area, and having smoked nearby, Bontrager said. The family member also had seen flames travel upward from the ground level while trying to extinguish them with a hose. The family member tried to control some of the fire after being contacted by one or more people who discovered it, he said.
Bontrager made the $60,000 damage estimate.