by: Richard Thompson Updated:
CHEHALIS, Wash. - It was 4:30 Tuesday morning when flames shot 40 feet in the air as a Chehalis apartment building went up in smoke and flames. Twelve-year-old Reonna Harris lives across the street and heard popping that sounded like gunshots, and saw an orange glow through her bedroom window. "It was engulfed in flames. It was really scary" she told KIRO-7 South Sound Reporter Richard Thompson.
One man was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation after seven residents inside the apartment escaped the burning building through smoke filled hallways. The heat was so intense they ignited the house next door. The two people who live inside that home were also able to make it out to safety.
See photos of the fire here.
The fire has left all nine people without a home. "It's very sad" said Lelah Harris, who is friends with the people who escaped from the burning house.
There have been a series of arson fires in Chehalis and Centralia in recent months but the Riverside Fire Chief Jim Walkowski told KIRO-7, "We don't see anything that's suspicious to us based off what we saw with the other fire sets."
Neighbors like Lelah Harris believe a smoker left on a wooden balcony is to blame. "They had a smoker on the balcony and they were smoking fish last night," said Harris.
The fire chief says the smoker is just one of the possibilities being investigated. "We heard there was a homemade fish smoker on the side of the structure, we heard there were multiple explosions, we heard there were people fighting," said Chief Walkowski. The chief told KIRO-7 the first step in the investigation was going to be getting engineers to look at the two buildings to see if they are structurally safe for fire investigators to enter.
The damage to the apartment building and home are preliminarily estimated between $450,000 and $600,000.