Monday’s fire in White Center declared arson

WHITE CENTER, Wash. — A fire ripped through multiple businesses in White Center early Monday morning. Some of them were just starting to celebrate being able to serve customers without restrictions again. Another new store was about to launch a grand opening.

The blaze has the White Center community stunned. The devastating fire started in the basement of The Lumber Yard Bar, then quietly spread to neighboring businesses before anyone realized.

King County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tim Meyer told KIRO 7 on Friday that after new evidence developed on Thursday afternoon, the fire has now been reclassified as arson.

Detectives are working to identify possible suspects and ask the public with any info should call the King County Sheriff’s non-emergency line at 206-296-3311.

Firefighters said someone noticed one shop on fire and flagged down a Seattle Fire Department ladder truck at around 1:40 a.m. that happened to be passing by, but the fire was already so severe that crews had to fight it from the outside.

“It’s a difficult fire to fight. These are older buildings. There are void spaces and stuff, places we can’t get to because we can’t get inside,” said Eric Autry, a spokesperson for Zone 3 with King County Fire District 2.

Sharon Lei is 24 years old and a recent University of Washington graduate. She was just about to launch a boba tea and bingsu (Korean shaved ice) shop — with a grand opening planned for the end of July.

“This is my first business,” Lei said. “All my savings. I sold my car for this,” she said.

The shop is called “Nuggi” — named after her dog, who is featured in a cartoon on the walls.

“Because I love her. She is a micro American bulldog,” Lei said. “The circle – that’s her and round like a boba.”

She said she’s still determined to launch her business.

“I’m still going to open this. I’m still excited to make people happy, still excited to provide good quality,” Lei said. “The more I’m talking about it — I’m so excited — but I’m so sad.”

Lei has launched a GoFundMe so that you can help.

Other businesses impacted include La Típica Oaxaqueña, a Mexican grocery store; Rat City Tattoo; and the Boxing Gym Westside.

Neighboring business, The Lumber Yard Bar, is White Center’s first LGBTQ bar. It’s also completely destroyed. White Center Pride helped the business launch a GoFundMe, which quickly met its original goal of $60,000.

“People just reopened to full capacity, and it’s like this happened. It’s like people just keep getting hit in the gut — one punch right after another. It’s truly tragic; it really is. Because these are truly good people here,” said Trevor Yerian, who lives in the neighborhood.

Investigators first said they believed the fire was accidental and said it was not caused by fireworks. The Lumber Yard Bar reported losing power on July Fourth and stated on Facebook its power would be restored at around midnight. The fire was called in shortly after that.

King County Executive Dow Constantine visited the fire site on Monday afternoon. He said the county will look into what different funds, grants and technical assistance are available to help the businesses.

“These business districts are the heart of the communities, and we’re going to help them rebuild. We are going to help stitch together again this business district. But this is a blow for White Center,” Constantine said.