Seattle fire chief given authority to order vacant, derelict buildings demolished

SEATTLE — Tuesday’s deadly fire was the focus of the City of Seattle as they declare an emergency surrounding dangerous, vacant buildings.

The Seattle City Council is now giving the fire chief authority to order buildings deemed unsafe be demolished.

The fire chief says the building in Roosevelt wasn’t even on their list of vacant, derelict structures. He says the sad fact is they often don’t know a building is in such bad shape until they go up in flames.

So, the Seattle City Council voted to try to change that.

For Seattle’s firefighters, this is a terrifying sight, a vacant, derelict building in flames. Often someone is living inside, illegally, perhaps, but whose life could be in jeopardy.

“We’re looking out for life safety to the community,” said Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins.

That, says Chief Scoggins, is why he pushed so hard for the authority to speed up the process of demolishing these buildings. Still, he says they have been working for years to clean up the buildings or take them down.

“So, there are buildings that are being abated today,” he said. “But there are a number of them out there that we haven’t had any movement on that we still have a number of responses on. That we go to whether it’s fire or medical responses. And they are just life safety hazards to the community.”

This map shows just how many abandoned buildings dot the Seattle landscape. Last year, there were 130 fires in vacant structures and the number has been steadily going up. In 2022, more than 90 vacant buildings caught fire, just under 80 such fires the year before.

By a unanimous vote, all nine members declared an emergency, expanding the fire chief’s ability to act.

The chief was asked what is different now.

“Well, it wasn’t as clear before,” Chief Scoggins said, “and the authority to seek reimbursement for the cost of the demolition. So, a direct billing to the property owner or the ‘liening’ of the property. All of that has now been made clear by way of the fire code.”

The Chief says does not mean all of these buildings will be demolished, overnight. In fact, they could be fenced off or boarded up, with demolition being the last resort.

But now the process is in the city’s fire code.  So, owners have been warned.

Comments on this article