Lots of dumpsters still in dangerous spots around Ballard area

Update Tuesday AM: No new fires overnight.

Earlier: The dumpster arsonist(s) may be taking the day off after a string of 21 fires — no new fires so far since last night — but the danger is still very real for Ballard and surrounding neighborhoods.

This photo above of Sunday night’s fire behind the Hi Life in Ballard illustrates how big these fires can get (photo shared by @curtisdickie), putting nearby buildings at risk of catching fire. Saturday night’s blaze on 85th ignited the side of the building shared by Stacia’s Pizza and Taqueria Tequila, and a few other buildings have been scorched by the fires.

But even with the risk, it doesn’t take long driving around the neighborhood to see lots of dumpsters still pushed up against buildings and under overhangs and even apartment decks. Here are a couple examples from Ballard and Fremont:

Seattle Fire is urging neighbors to pull dumpsters at least 5 feet away from buildings and overhangs and lock them up. If your apartment manager hasn’t done it, then contact them. If that doesn’t work, you may want to consider re-positioning the dumpster yourself.

Because it’s only a matter of time before one of these small fires turns into a big fire, endangering the lives of those inside.

We’re continuing to monitor Seattle Fire dispatch for new fires, and we’re posting more frequent updates on Twitter. If you see a fire — or hear lots of sirens — please send us a tip at tips@myballard.com or ping @myballard on Twitter.

Here’s Seattle Fire’s full list of precautions:

  • Locate dumpsters and containers at least five feet away from walls and roof eave lines. Use only metal or metal-lined receptacles.
  • Place locks on commercial dumpsters or keep in secured area. Locks may be available through your contracted service provider.
  • Secure business and garage areas by locking doors and windows.
  • Clean up wastepaper, grasses, weeds, litter, or anything that can burn from around buildings. Clear carport areas of all combustibles.
  • Trim shrubbery from doors and windows to improve visibility.
  • Install motion-sensor exterior lights.
  • Test fire and life safety systems, including fire extinguishers, to ensure they are working and in compliance with codes.
  • Develop and practice a fire response plan.
  • Keep exit ways clear of items which could slow evacuation efforts.

If you see a fire or even suspicious circumstances, call 911. If you have any information related to one of the previous fires, call SPD investigators at 206-684-8980. You can also contact the Arson Alarm Foundation Hotline at 1-800-55-ARSON or arsonalarm.org. An award may be provided, and you can remain anonymous.

New dumpster fires this weekend are related, says Seattle Fire

Update Monday morning: Looks like there were no new fires overnight. Seattle Fire has updated the map. There are 21 dumpster fires in total so far:

Update Sunday night: Big response to 1537 NW 56th St. for a report of a fire in a 7-story apartment building. A few minutes later, all units but engine 18 were cleared, which means this was a small fire. Since no investigator was dispatched, it’s not related to the arson cases. But it’s a good reminder that those dumpster fires have the potential to spark big fires.

Update Sunday evening: Firefighters were just called out to 5425 Russell AV NW near the old Ballard firehouse (the Hi Life) for yet another dumpster fire with no exposure. My Ballard’s Silver was there to take photos:

There are so many of these, the fire investigator called for this fire said he was running behind.

About a half hour earlier, there was another dumpster fire in Magnolia — the second in that neighborhood. It was a block away from the Starbucks at 2425 33rd Av W. Smoke poured into the parking garage, tripping alarms.

These make fires #20 and #21.

Update Sunday afternoon: Yet another fire, this time up on Phinney Ridge at Red Mill Burgers.

Firefighters had just extinguished the fire at when we arrived at 67th and Phinney. The dumpster is in the busy Red Mill parking lot up against a fence. Police were questioning possible witnesses.

This is a very visible spot, so it’s odd this would happen in broad daylight.

This is fire #19 — the sixth fire this weekend alone.

In looking around the Ballard area, we’re seeing lots of dumpster still pushed up against buildings — and some under decks at apartment complexes. These need to be moved, folks.

Update Sunday noon: Firefighters responded just before noon to a dumpster fire at 4704 17th Ave. NW. It was up against a building — appears to be an industrial area — and was quickly extinguished. This is fire #18.

Updated Sunday AM: In just a 12-hour span on Saturday, 4 new dumpster fires were set in the Ballard area, bringing the total to 17. One of those fires ignited the side of a restaurant on 8th Ave., but fortunately firefighters were able to extinguish it before there was any significant damage.

Seattle Fire spokeswoman Kristin Tinsley tells My Ballard that the new fires “match the pattern” of previous fires, including being intentionally set. But it’s unclear if the new fires are the product of the same arsonist — the criminal investigation is the domain of Seattle Police’s Arson and Bomb Squad.

Two of the new fires were dispatched just 7 minutes apart from each other. The first was called out at 11:18 p.m. on Saturday to the Magnolia side at 4441 26th Ave. W, a couple blocks from Salmon Bay. Then just a few minutes later — at 11:25 p.m. — firefighters were dispatched for a dumpster fire at 5802 24th Ave. NW, near the QFC. An investigator was dispatched for both.

Those two locations are 2.7 miles apart by car. Here’s the 24th Ave. scene:

Earlier on Saturday evening, firefighters raced to 301 85th St. NW in Greenwood for a dumpster fire behind the building shared by Taqueria Tequila and Stacia’s Gourmet Pizza & Pasta. Tinsley said the fire extended up the exterior wall and onto an overhanging awning, but fortunately firefighters were able to knock it down before it did any real damage.

And just before noon on Saturday, fire crews responded to 22nd and Market St for a dumpster fire. A TV crew was shooting some video when Michael (@mgrass) shot this photo (above).

That brings the tally to 17 across a growing area that now includes Greenwood and Magnolia. Seattle Fire has a list of preventative measures that all businesses (and homes) should be following, especially ensuring your dumpsters are pulled away from nearby buildings.

Earlier: Seattle Fire warns Ballard about an outbreak of dumpster fires

Seattle Fire warns Ballard about string of dumpster fires

Update: There were two more fires on Saturday, which we’ve updated here.

Earlier: Fire and police investigators are looking into 13 dumpster fires that were intentionally set in Ballard over the last few days.

The fires began on December 21st, and the most recent fire was reported this morning. Here’s the map, which Seattle Fire says it will continue to update with any additional fires. You can click on any of the markers for the date and block address:

(Seattle Fire says this morning’s fire was located at 54th St. and 15th Ave. and occurred at 5:33 a.m. At this writing, they have yet to add it to the map).

While some may be tempted to write off dumpster fires as a nuisance — or a funny internet meme — Seattle Fire says they’re a serious matter.

“[They] can be dangerous if they catch a nearby building or combustibles on fire,” Seattle Fire spokeswoman Kristin Tinsley tells My Ballard. “A few of the most important [prevention tips] for dumpster fires include keeping them at least 5-feet away from structures, putting receptacles in a secured location or placing a lock on them, and having an outdoor motion sensor.”

Seattle Fire is asking businesses and residents to keep a watchful eye and call 911 if you see any suspicious activity. They ask that businesses and homes:

  • Locate dumpsters and containers at least five feet away from walls and roof eave lines. Use only metal or metal-lined receptacles.
  • Place locks on commercial dumpsters or keep in secured area. Locks may be available through your contracted service provider.
  • Secure business and garage areas by locking doors and windows.
  • Clean up wastepaper, grasses, weeds, litter, or anything that can burn from around buildings. Clear carport areas of all combustibles.
  • Trim shrubbery from doors and windows to improve visibility.
  • Install motion-sensor exterior lights.
  • Test fire and life safety systems, including fire extinguishers, to ensure they are working and in compliance with codes.
  • Develop and practice a fire response plan.
  • Keep exit ways clear of items which could slow evacuation efforts.

The Seattle Police Arson and Bomb Squad is investigating. If you have any information related to one of the previous fires, you asked to call 206-684-8980. You can also contact the Arson Alarm Foundation Hotline at 1-800-55-ARSON or arsonalarm.org. An award may be provided for information resulting in a conviction. Persons providing information may remain anonymous.

We’ll keep you updated…

Investigators: 5 fires in vacant buildings in Ballard in last 2 months

After noticing several fires in abandoned buildings over the last few weeks, we contacted Seattle Fire investigators for a tally — and to learn what started them.

There have been five fires across three locations in the Ballard area in November and December, according to investigators. All of the blazes were started by trespassers who lit warming or debris fires. And in each case, the properties had failed city inspections.

8017-8023 15th Ave NW

The largest fire occurred on the night of December 3rd (photo above by Mac Jahn), burning an abandoned structure at 8019 15th Ave NW — the largest of three abandoned homes in the same block. Fire crews had to cut through a perimeter fence to access the blaze, and one firefighter sustained minor injuries.

The cause was a “warming fire ignited nearby combustibles,” Seattle Fire told My Ballard.

Six days later, a smaller fire occurred in a vacant house next door, at 8023 15th Ave. NW (next to the Pancake House.) The cause was the same, but the building was not damaged. City records show the third vacant house at 8017 15th Ave. NW — next door to the first fire and part of the same batch of abandoned homes — failed a city inspection in February of 2017, but was subsequently brought up to compliance.

These buildings have since been torn down (above) to make room for a single development by Sage Homes comprised of nine townhouses.

8509 14th Ave. NW

Rewind to the beginning of November, and Seattle Fire responded to fire at an abandoned home at 8509 14th Ave. NW. Then again on Dec. 20th, firefighters responded to the same home for a report of smoke. In both cases, investigators say someone had set a fire in the fireplace — the first time, it set a tree on fire, right next door to a new condo building.

“Luckily one of our residents was able to call 911 before the fire did a lot of damage to either property,” said one of the condo residents, Jed, in comments in our earlier story on the fire. He said a man and woman had fled after the fire started.

The vacant home failed a city inspection on November 17th, according to city records. There’s no record of the property being brought back into compliance. When we visited over the weekend (above), the home was boarded up.

Last week Jed said workers had re-boarded up the house and hauled away “6 or 7 trips of trash and debris from the house.” He said the developers told him they were planning to demolish the home this month. Records show the owner is 308 VIEW LLC, and the plan is to build two apartment buildings with a total of 24 units.

1443 NW 63rd St.

The final fire in the list occurred at a vacant home at 1443 NW 63rd St. on November 26th, right next to Alki’s Body Shop.

This fire was extinguished quickly, and investigators told us the cause is “small debris fires set.” A search of city records shows the property has received at least four complaints and one citation.

“As of 12/21/17 the site has been cleaned up,” explains a note in the records. “Case to remain open until [demolition] and [building] permits are issued to ensure site is maintained.” As we saw when we visited (above), a fence had been installed around the property.

The owner, Greenbuild Development, plans to build an apartment complex with 30 units.

In each of these cases, the city’s enforcement work has prompted developers to respond, some sooner than others. If you see a vacant building that may not be following city ordinance, you can call city inspectors at (206) 615-0808. You can also fill out a form online here.

If you see any trespassers or suspicious activity, you can call 911 or the Seattle Police non-emergency line at 206-625-5011.

We’ll keep an eye on subsequent fires in the neighborhood. As always, if you have a news tips, please email us at tips@myballard.com — it’s a big help.

Arson suspect confesses, evidence revealed

In court Saturday afternoon, a judge set $1 million bail for Kevin Todd Swalwell. According to the statement of probable cause (.pdf), Swalwell “was captured on surveillance video at 8516 Greenwood Ave. N at the time of a fire being set to the rear of the restaurant there that was determined to be arson. Suspect admitted to detectives, after Miranda waiver, that he was solely responsible for setting the fire, along with several other arson fires.”

Previously convicted for arson, Swalwell has been homeless with a mailing address at the Ballard Food Bank. He’ll be formally charged next week.

Also on Saturday, hundreds of people packed the Greenwood Sip & Ship for the reopening of the Green Bean Coffeehouse, which was destroyed in that Oct 23rd fire. Green Bean even hung their old sign, which was virtually undamaged in the fire, outside along the sidewalk. PhinneyWood has complete coverage.

Arson suspect in custody, another being questioned

This morning, 46-year-old Kevin Todd Swalwell was booked into the King County Jail on investigation of arson after being taken into custody several blocks away from a warehouse fire in Shoreline last night. Swalwell has a long history of arson. According to this Seattle Times article from 1995, he has convictions both in the 1990’s and 1980’s. The Seattle Times is reporting that a second person-of-interest is also being questioned.

According to Nancy McKinney, the director of the Ballard Food Bank, Swalwell had his mail delivered there. “I actually talked to him within the last five days,” she tells us, but doesn’t know who he is. “I couldn’t pick him out of a line-up.” He is one of about 600 people to use the food bank for their mail service.

PhinneyWood has complete coverage of the arrests, the Shoreline fire and reaction from the Greenwood business community.

Hundreds pack arson meeting, arson count 14

Over 600 people packed a public meeting at Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church to hear the latest on a terrifying string of arsons in the Greenwood neighborhood. To underline the seriousness of the meeting, at one point the Fire Marshal briefed the crowd on how to evacuate in case the arsonist lit the church on fire.

Officials told worried neighbors they’re doing everything they can to catch the arsonist, who could be responsible for as many as 14 fires, not 10 as previously thought. PhinneyWood attended the meeting and posted a report.