SEATTLE - Investigators say they have confirmed that a raging fire that erupted at a waterfront home under construction Monday, burning three homes, was caused when a furnace ignited lacquer fumes.
Two painters who were inside at the time told investigators they thought the furnace had exploded.
Larry Johnson said he immediately stopped his electrical work at a house a few doors from the explosion and fire. He said he saw the two painters that had been in the burning home stumble out dazed and in shock.
"His hands were peeling. His skin was peeling and he was pretty hurt," said Johnson.
One of the workers suffered severe facial burns and was transported to Harborview in serious but stable condition.
Johnson, a veteran on home construction sites, said he knows about the risk of working in flammable fumes.
"If the fumes build up in there and there's a furnace that's on, that's a little flame that's burning all the time. What's it take for that to spark?" said Johnson.
Jaimee Mader said she knows the family who lost their home that was nearly finished.
"(They're) shocked. And I think their biggest concern is probably for the neighbors on either side of them and up behind. That's the kind of people they are," said Mader.
Homes to the north and south of the home at 5131 NE Laurelcrest Lane caught fire as well. Fire officials said embers flying up the hill started a brush fire and landed the roofs of three other homes on a different street. He said three alarms were called to bring the necessary resources to keep the fire from spreading. About 96 firefighters responded to the fires.
Chopper 7 video showed firefighters on a deck of one of the homes, next to a room consumed by flames. Smoke rising above the fires can be seen for miles.
One firefighter had to be treated for heat exhaustion.
The crew in Chopper 7 said they could see flames from the moment they left Renton Airport at about 4 p.m., and the fire can been seen from the 520 Floating Bridge.
"Source in the neighborhood says after a blast, embers fell on surrounding homes starting additional fires..." reported @RavennaBlog on Twitter. "House is two or three to the left/north of the Laurelhurst Beach Club along the water."
According to Zillow.com, the home where the fire started was worth $3.2 million and is 3,100 square feet. That home is a total loss.
Of the other two homes, one suffered major damage to the roof and top floor. That home is valued at $3.7 million and is 6,070 square feet.
The third home appeared to have suffered damage to its roof. Damage to the homes is estimated to be more than $7 million.
As for the investigation into the fire, Johnson thinks there will be some liability on the part of the painters or sub-contractors working on the house and said the fire could have been prevented by ventilating or turning off the gas at the furnace.