By Polly Keary, Editor
A fire that broke out in a storage unit at Chain Lake Self Storage at 1 a.m Thursday morning destroyed or damaged 186 units before firefighters left the scene 10 hours later.
Alarms alerted the on-site manager of the storage facility to the fire, and when firefighters arrived, fire was “rolling out of one of the lockers,” said battalion chief Leroy Schwartz, who worked on the blaze.
The fire rapidly spread.
“It got up into the attic,” said Schwartz. “They have a slight pitched roof, but the ceilings are flat, so it had room to move in there.”
The fire was especially difficult to fight because of where it was located. The storage units are arranged into three rows, and the fire was in the central row, about halfway down, meaning firefighters had to punch through from the outside amidst a lot of obstruction to access the fire.
It also was a very smoky fire, due to the household goods and other items stored in the units, making for dangerous firefighting conditions. Most, if not all, of the units that were eventually destroyed were in use.
Firefighters couldn’t address the flames from above with ladder trucks and had to punch through the outer walls to get hoses to the fire, and it was too dangerous to send firefighters inside the building, forcing them to fight the blaze from outside.
Within an hour the fire grew to a two-alarm fire. Shortly thereafter, it was upgraded to three-alarm, and trucks and crews from as far away as King County responded. In all, more than 60 firefighters from Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar, Snohomish, Woodinville, Duvall, Bothell, Everett, Lake Stevens, Maltby, and Fire District 1 responded to the incident.
“I didn’t get to bed until 10 this morning,” said Merlin Halverson, chief of the Sultan Fire Department, who was among the responders. “It was an ugly fire. There was a lot of smoke, a lot of hard work. We had to cut our way into a big metal can. We spent all night.”
As the morning went on, renters began to arrive, trying to determine whether their units were among those destroyed. The facility had about 500 units, some heated, of which 56 were completely destroyed and another 30 were heavily damaged.
“People store their treasures in there,” said Schwarz.
Some people lost keepsakes and treasured mementos from their children’s childhoods. Others lost household goods stored there while moving. One woman lost all her inventory for her eBay business.
Another lost 16 years worth of business records.
There were some very relieved people, too, whose goods were spared.
Stephanie and Erik Johnson learned that the unit holding their four-wheelers and a great deal of art supplies and tools for their business went unscathed; a vast relief, as the couple is in the midst of moving to a new home.
And the Monroe Rotary Club feared for a time that the unit holding all of its supplies, including decorations needed for the upcoming annual barn dance, was lost, but it was also spared.
The losses could have been a lot fewer had the 1997 building been built to more stringent codes, said Halverson.
“There’s no excuse for those buildings to be built that way,” he said. “They should be firewalled off every 30 feet or so. That way you could get a fire in two or three units, and then get it compartmentalized.”
It isn’t known how many of the renters carried insurance on their units. No injuries were reported, and the office and the residence of the managers were unscathed.
A person who answered the phone at Chain Lake Storage Thursday politely declined to comment.
The fire is still under investigation, and a cause of the fire. and damage estimates have not been determined.