Early Friday morning, a house went up in flames in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood along I-5. Another day, another squatter house fire.
Carol Huey was pan-handling near the I-5 onramp when she “heard a pop” and saw “flames shooting from front and back.”
“Please hurry…don’t let it burn his house,” recounts Huey. She tells me she tried to get help.
Marc Aldham lives next door to the house that caught on fire. Aldham’s “gutter caught fire a little bit,” but for the most part, his home survived the inferno next door.
The empty house is a liability, and Aldham says it “needs to be torn down.” He notes that it is not the first time the house has caught on fire, “because the owner seems to not be doing what he needs to be doing.”
David Cuerpo with the Seattle Fire Department says that crews have responded at least four times to incidents with this empty house since January.
Derek Pauole lives on the other side of the house that caught fire. He says that along with homeless people hanging around, criminal activity and drug use happen at the abandoned house. Pauole says it gets “boarded up every single time.”
Not only that, Pauole tells me he’s witnessed “people jumping from roof to roof…and jump off roofs just full barefoot.”
The street where the house went up in flames, 5th Avenue NE, continues to be problematic in Wallingford.
Just a block away, the notorious ship canal bridge encampment remains a source of crime, fires, and frustration for parents at John Stanford International School. Governor Jay Inslee recently visited in an attempt to placate parent concerns.
Adrian Ghazi, one of the neighbors, tells me he will occasionally “wake up to the sound of explosions under the freeway” where the encampment is.
The empty house that caught fire is one of three abandoned houses on the street, and one has been completely burned down by squatters.
Aldham agrees that it’s time for the city to intervene. He says the squatting “has been destabilizing this neighborhood for a year and a half.” Aldham tells me he’s been “woken up at 4:00 in the morning to glass shattering in that house” next door.
But as it stands, the city has placed the responsibility on homeowners to meet code for vacant properties, or face fines.
Several phones lay plugged into an outlet on Aldham’s porch. He allows his homeless neighbors to charge their phones on his porch. He says, “They’re nice. I know them.”
But after this latest incident, he’s having second thoughts about what compassion really means. He laments, “it is making me feel unsafe and uncomfortable in my own home.”