A building fire about 30 feet from the Sequim Civic Center permanently displaced five people early Sunday morning.
At least $300,00 in property was lost with $200,000 in estimated structural damages and $100,000 in content at the 153 W. Spruce St. residence, which included a home, dental lab, garage and a fifth wheel trailer, reports Assistant Fire Chief Dan Orr with Clallam County Fire District 3.
All the structures have been determined uninhabitable, he said.
Firefighters responded at 3:22 a.m. June 6 to the three-lot property north of city hall to find the detached garage on fire and spreading quickly to the property’s other structures, Orr said.
“The first arriving engine positioned itself in the alley between the structure and City Hall and used a deck gun to try to knock the fire down,” he said.
Brooke Ayers, who lives in the apartment complex, said she and her boyfriend woke up to check on their children because they were unsure what was happening outside. Moments later they were evacuated by Sequim Police officers.
“It was nuts,” she said.
Their family and other residents sat in their vehicles across Spruce Street in a parking lot for about an hour-and-a-half before they could return home, Ayers said.
She confirmed firefighters worked hard to prevent the fire from spreading to the apartments by consistently spraying the roof. Some apartments facing the burning buildings had their windows blown out from the heat, Orr said.
Property owner Ron Fairclough was one of five residents evacuated on Sunday morning, Orr said, along with a couple in the fifth wheel, a renter and a neighbor who was temporarily living in the home.
Orr said the neighbor noticed a glow in the back of the property and woke everyone up.
Fire investigators did some preliminary digging but don’t know if anyone saw anything occur, Orr said.
Fairclough told fire officials he was insured, while the unnamed resident in the fifth wheel said his trailer was not insured.
American Red Cross officials came to the scene to assist those displaced with temporary housing, Orr said.
Cause of the fire remains under investigation, fire officials said, with Sequim Police Department taking the lead due to proximity and familiarity with the property.
Sgt. Carolee Edwards with Sequim Police Department said it’s unknown if criminal charges could go forward or not.
Orr said fire investigators will take their time to investigate the property due to potentially harmful materials, such as needles, found on site.
Local firefighters received mutual aid from Clallam County Fire District 2 and East Jefferson
Fire and Rescue with 25 firefighters on scene at one time, Orr reports.
The property has a long history with the City of Sequim, either through potential sale/rent talks, alleged criminal activity, and/or code compliance issues.
In 2018, the property was part of Service Fest where Habitat for Humanity and City of Sequim volunteers helped clean up properties. A city crew tore down a house for Fairclough at 169 W. Spruce St. in agreement with him. Service Fest organizers filled and took 12 truckloads of garbage to the dump from his properties at 153, 161 and 169 W. Spruce St.
Tents now sit on the slab at 161 W. Spruce St. housing vehicles and miscellaneous equipment.
Banners on the property continue to say the properties are available for development.
Fairclough did not face criminal charges, police report, but residents on his properties were investigated and/or charged with multiple crimes. For example, Sequim Police reported to the properties 144 times from Jan. 1, 2010-Dec. 16, 2014, for issues including animal abuse, domestic violence, assault, child abuse, burglary and drug violations.
Fairclough tried to rent and sell his properties to the city at various points but couldn’t reach a sale agreement with the last negotiations in 2008 about $200,000 apart, reported former city officials.
In 2015, the city and Fairclough looked to a rental agreement for parking at 161 and 169 W. Spruce St. but an agreement couldn’t be reached.
Former city manager Steve Burkett said negotiations were called off due to a stalemate and that renting the properties was more about improving the neighborhood and less about creating parking spaces.
Fairclough said in a previous interview his vision for purchasing the properties at 161 W. Spruce St. in 1980 and 169 W. Spruce St. in 2007 was to create a Sequim Laboratory of Dental Arts. He was derailed though, he said, because of bad renters stealing equipment and not paying him rent worth tens-of-thousands of dollars.