Three dead in 3-alarm fire at Tukwila apartments, unstable hillside prompts evacuations

TUKWILA, Wash. — Firefighters in Tukwila are continuing to extinguish hot spots Wednesday after a 3-alarm fire at a Tukwila apartment building that killed three people, including a man, woman and a child.

Evacuations were ordered for adjacent apartment buildings and properties Tuesday, as well as the area below the building, due to an unstable hillside caused by water from firefighting efforts. Part of the burned building has caved in.

Firefighters said they could remain at the scene for as long as two more days.

Tukwila Fire Chief Jay Wittwer said the fire started just after 5 a.m. Tuesday at the Maple Crest Apartments on 65th Avenue South near South 151st Street. When crews arrived, flames were leaping 50 feet above the building.

The fire started in the back of the building, which is difficult for fire crews to access, because there is a sheer drop-off of 65 feet directly behind it. Firefighters were unable to surround the fire and water could only be dropped from one direction.

Because of the large amount of water used to fight the fire, engineers and soil scientists deemed the steep hillside behind the complex unsafe as of Tuesday afternoon. The fear is that the building could fall off the steep drop-off an onto Interurban Avenue South if the hillside degrades.

Since then, officials have allowed cars to return to a portion of Interurban Avenue that was closed and evacuated due to runoff water that was rushing down the hillside and mud on the road.

Wittwer said 31 of the 32 units in the building were occupied. There was initial concern that some occupants were missing, but fire officials said all other residents were accounted for.

The woman, man, and female child who died were trapped in a unit. Their bodies have been removed.

Four people were treated by medics at the scene. Video showed a rescued cat also being treated by medics.

Several residents said smoke alarms didn’t go off until it was too late. Tukwila Fire officials said those claims cannot be investigated until the fire is fully extinguished.

Those displaced by the fire were taken on buses to the Tukwila Community Center.

The Tukwila Police Department is collecting donations of goods for everyone affected by the fire and is asking for volunteers to help sort the items received. Find out how to help here.

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