Cause of massive Bellevue fire could have quietly killed tenants

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BELLEVUE, Wash. -  

 The cause of a fire that displaced 23 occupants of a Bellevue apartment building could have quietly killed tenants days ago.

 

Investigators said long before huge flames blew through the roof the Newporter apartments Tuesday night, a gas fireplace was quietly burning in an apartment below, filling parts of the complex with deadly carbon monoxide gas.

 

  Tenants of the building told KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Gary Horcher they believed all the gas fireplaces were removed from the apartments years ago.

 

“From my understanding, there were no running fireplaces in this whole building. When I first moved in, that’s what I was told,” said tenant Natalia Arredondo.

 

But firefighters said one apartment on the ground floor had a working gas fireplace.  Roofers, who were unaware of the working fireplace, covered up its vent while doing work a few weeks ago.

 

Firefighters said heat from the unvented fireplace ignited the building’s attic and roof.

 

Arredondo lives on the third floor, near the spot where roofers mistakenly covered up the vent.

 

She said days before the fire, she was getting unusual migraine headaches that were so painful she saw a doctor.

 

“I was still waking up with a headache and it was not going away, not with the medication prescribed and not with regular headache medicine,” said Arredondo.

 

Arredondo said that prior to the fire she slept with the windows open every night because she felt she needed fresh air.

 

“Now I know why.  I’ve been breathing toxic air,” said Arredondo.

 

Since the fire, the entire complex is being aired out with blowers.

 

A firefighter said it was actually fortunate that a fire broke out and everyone had to evacuate, otherwise, CO from the unvented fireplace could have killed unaware families.

 

Some tenants believe the man who ran the fireplace had no idea the vent was covered or that there was any hazard.

 


“To find out that this is the reason that this happened, and it’s not just a simple cooking mistake, that it was something overlooked by professionals is very concerning to me,” said Arredondo.

 

Six families lost everything in the fire, but no one was hurt.

 

 

KIRO 7 learned the apartment is owned by King County. The management company did not return KIRO’s messages.