A three-alarm fire in Upper County broke out Thursday, with fire crews from multiple agencies tackling the blaze amidst challenges from extreme snowfall in the area.
Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue Chief John Sinclair said the blaze at the former Cle Elum-Roslyn School District headquarters building is currently under investigation by the Kittitas County Fire Marshal’s Office.
“The working hypothesis is that they had snow that slid off the roof and cracked a gas line that was going into the building,” he said. “I think the County Fire Marshal is working to prove or disprove that. It then found an ignition source.”
Sinclair said the fire began on the exterior of the building, subsequently working its way inside. Kittitas County Fire District 6 and 7, Cle Elum Fire, and Roslyn Fire responded to the incident.
“They were able to get a pretty good knockdown on it from the exterior,” Sinclair said of the efforts to extinguish the blaze. “There was nobody in the building at the time. The Suncadia Water Department had been utilizing the building, but it’s my understanding that it was vacant at the time the fire broke out.”
Sinclair said there were no injuries related to the blaze but said there were access issues due to the heavy snowfall in the area.
“That delayed the initial response of the different fire departments up there, but they were able to get the fire knocked down on the outside,” he said. “By that time, the fire had gone up into the attic of the building. They wound up with a partial collapse of the roof, and they were there for several hours getting it put back out.”
Sinclair said building experienced a rekindle Friday morning which was extinguished by crews. He said there was no additional significant damage done to the building by the rekindle. He said efforts are ongoing to assess the extent of damage to the structure.
“I don’t know what they were using the building for or any of that,” he said. “Apparently the Suncadia Water Company still had some things in there, so we’re working with the school district and Suncadia to figure that all out.”
With the extreme levels of snowfall, Sinclair said one issue going into the weekend and beyond is the number of residents who are snowbound, posing potential challenges to emergency calls. He said the diligent work done by both Kittitas County and city of Ellensburg Public Works has made a significant difference in the ability for crews to respond to emergencies.
“I think they have done an amazing job of getting the snow cleared in the way they have,” he said. “They’ve got crews working day and night to get that done.”
Despite the roads becoming increasingly cleared, Sinclair said a plow truck has been added to first-responder crews in both Upper and Lower County.
“A lot of people still don’t have their driveways cleared out,” he said. “If we get out to a county residence and we need to plow to get into them, we will do that.”
Along with having access routes cleared if possible, Sinclair said one other task residents can help first responders with is ensuring access to fire hydrants in their neighborhoods.
“With all the snow removal that is going on, hydrants seem to get neglected,” he said. “If there’s a neighborhood hydrant, one of the things we would ask is that while you’re doing your snow removal, make sure that little sentry in your front yard isn’t buried, for both your safety and your neighborhood’s safety.”