Richland fire was caused by cigarette, official says

It's been seven weeks since a fire broke out at a Richland apartment building, forcing dozens of residents to find a new place to live and sending one man to the hospital.

The 56-year-old resident of the Casa Grande Apartments, 1930 George Washington Way, spent several weeks at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after being rescued by Richland firefighters.

He has since been released and is staying with friends in Spokane, said apartment manager, Diane Kivett. The man, whose name was not released, suffered smoke inhalation and got what Kivett said was a "pretty bad burn" on his lower leg near his ankle.

The victim had left his apartment, went into the hall to get a fire extinguisher and returned to try to put out the fire. He apparently was overcome by smoke and was found in the hallway.

Smoke filled the apartment building and firefighters had to use the wall to feel their way as they pulled the man out.

Richland Fire Marshal Kurt Hubele ruled the two-alarm blaze was accidental and caused by a cigarette that caught the living room couch on fire.

That ruling matches witness reports that the fire started inside the apartment and the resident said he had been smoking, Hubele said.

The resident doesn't remember the actual fire, but Hubele said he suspects the man fell asleep while smoking.

A total of 18 units were damaged by the blaze, Kivett said. All but one were occupied. There were seven vacancies in the 36-unit complex, so some residents were able to move into open apartments, Kivett said.

"One nice couple, they found another apartment instead of taking one of the open ones," she said. "The others have found other apartments in the area, but everybody wants to come back."

The renovation process is beginning but is slow, she said.

Right now, workers are taking out some drywall from the units that sustained smoke damage to see exactly how bad the damage is.

Kivett said the night of the fire was "very nightmarish," but she was impressed to see all the cooperation and assistance from area fire agencies, the Red Cross and neighbors.

"Everyone helped us," she said. "We had a bad night, but we had a lot of good help. ... It could have been worse, but it was bad enough."