Fires

Key Points

  • Fires include a broad range of incidents from wildland fires especially where urban areas abut natural areas, large single structure fires, multi-structure fires, ship fires, industrial fires, brush fires, and vehicle-related fires.

  • Seattle has lost fourteen firefighters since 2000 and 104 civilians since 1994.440 The trend in the number of casualties seems be dropping, but it is still statistically impossible to verify the drop because of the small amount of data. The number of structural fires has also been dropping, but the dollar losses have not been.

  • Seattle has experienced large fires, including the 1889 fire that destroyed downtown and the 1970 Ozark Hotel fire that killed 20 people. Both fires occurred under different historical circumstances than those that exist today. The 1889 fire occurred before a modern fire code and the Ozark Fire happened when Seattle had many multi-unit dwellings without sprinklers.

  • The 1970 Ozark fire led to legislation mandating that safety systems, such as sprinklers, be retrofitted into older buildings. In an unintended consequence, many owners chose to leave floors unoccupied because the costs of retrofitting outweighed the revenues they produced.

  • Fires have been a deadly secondary impact of earthquakes and civil disorders. In the 1995 Kobe and 1906 San Francisco earthquakes, more people died from fire than building collapse. Following the 1992 Rodney King verdict, multiple fires were set in Seattle, taxing Fire Department resources.

  • While wildfires have not been a threat to the Puget Sound area traditionally, climate change is increasing the likelihood of wildfire west of the Cascade Mountains. A wildfire is still unlikely in Seattle because the city is far from any wildland areas but could threaten some city infrastructure located in wildland areas. Seattle regularly gets brush fires along roadways, such as I-5, that can threaten adjacent homes.

  • Large structural fires remain a substantial risk and are most likely to occur in areas with older buildings, such as Downtown, the International District, First Hill, Ballard, and the University District.

  • Fires in underground electrical vaults have caused prolonged outages in downtown and other dense areas where power has been placed underground. The effects of these power outages are covered in the chapter on power outages.

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