Police have opened a criminal investigation following a suspicious fire that killed two people as it engulfed two apartment buildings in Browne’s Addition early Monday.
Some apartment residents had to drop their pets from upper story windows into the arms of people waiting below and then jump to escape the flames and smoke. Dozens of people were evacuated and several were injured, including a firefighter.
When emergency calls arrived about Tiffany Manor, 2308 W. Second Ave., at 2:43 am, flames were already spreading throughout the building. The stairs were no longer accessible and some people had to be rescued by firefighters using ladders, Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said. The two deceased people were on the upper floor of the building.
The flames quickly spread to a 124-year-old apartment building next door at 2314 W. Second Ave., Schaeffer said. Everyone escaped to the safety of the second structure, a Colonial Revival style building built in 1897 that housed seven apartments.
Darrin Haman, who has lived on the ground floor of the Tiffany mansion for three years, said a woman walking past saw smoke in the stairwell, knocked on his door and woke him up.
“As soon as I opened the door, I saw the embers come down,” Haman said.
He fled wearing only his underwear and without catching anything; he burned his foot in his flight.
When he got out, Haman saw residents of the upper floors trapped on their balconies. He caught a woman who jumped. Another woman on the top floor stepped out onto a balcony but did not want to jump. He said he learned later that she died in the fire.
Haman, who has lived in Spokane for more than 20 years, said he was glad he didn’t run back to his apartment to look for clothes or his phone. Her 11-year-old daughter had planned to spend the night on Sunday but changed her mind, Haman said.
When he was 11, Haman’s family home in Great Falls, MT was burnt to the ground. Haman said he lost everything, then taught him that “this is all stuff.”
Tiffany Mansion, built in 1985, sits on the northwest corner of Second and Spruce, on the corner of Coeur d’Alene Park Kittens. The building contained 11 apartments.
Nicholas Sorenson lived in the apartment building next to the apartment closest to the outside stairs of Tiffany Manor. Sorenson said he dozed off on the sofa and woke up smelling smoke.
He ran outside to find Tiffany Manor on fire. He called 911 before running back inside his building to pick up his 8-year-old son. By then, the flames had reached his apartment building.
“From the moment I saw the fire here until the moment it spread to my house, it took less than a minute,” he said.
Sorenson was able to get his son to safety before returning to the building to help his neighbors evacuate, he said.
When Tori McMillan, 26, returned home at 1:30 a.m. from her bartending job at Fast Eddies, everything seemed normal in her neighborhood, including the nearby Tiffany Manor. She was in bed ready to fall asleep when she heard a scream coming from outside her apartment building.
She looked outside to see what was happening to end up with a bright orange glow, McMillan said. She grabbed her medications, wallet and car keys and was running out of the building when she heard an explosion.
“It’s like a really bad horror movie,” she said.
McMillian stood in tears on the sidewalk in front of his still burning apartment building at 5:15 am, “incredulously.”
She does not have insurance for tenants, but said her parents live in town and she can stay with them.
Blaine McNicol and her husband Kyle Sullivan were sleeping in their apartment, located in the shed behind the 1897 building, when the couple’s next door neighbor started knocking on their door.
“It was like Armageddon,” McNicol said. “Through the blinds it was like this orange red and this whole building was all on fire.”
The couple had spoken of an emergency plan and were able to quickly collect necessities and evacuate. Sullivan recently had a kidney transplant and his medication is essential, McNichol said.
Sullivan, who wears hearing aids, said it was scary how long the fire must have been burning before he was alerted. Neither of them said they heard a fire alarm go off.
Firefighters were able to keep the flames from spreading to the shed as early as 7 a.m.
Schaeffer said a firefighter suffered minor injuries while fighting the blazes and was treated and released from a local hospital. He said it is unlikely that either of the buildings could be restored.
Detectives from the Spokane Police Department were on the scene Monday morning to assist with the investigation.