Victim identified in Hodges fire; cause still unknown
EVERETT - The fatal fire on Dec. 15 at the Hodges Building is raising questions about the safety of downtown’s low-rent apartment buildings, but fire officials emphasized last week that this fire was unrelated to code compliance issues involving the building.
The official cause of the fire had yet to be determined as of late last week. Fire Marshal Rick Robinson indicated the fire may have started near two power strips.
The fire was confined to the bedroom of apartment 402 where Wendy A. Pirring, 47, lived, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. The cause and manner of Pirring’s death were still pending as of late last week.
After the fire, officials found that her apartment had only one electrical outlet, which is against modern building code. The Hodges is a 90-year-old building.
The fire displaced 36 residents.
The Hodges fire is igniting focus on conditions in historic buildings across downtown.
The Hodges, at 1804 Hewitt Ave., is the third downtown building to have a fire in the past three years. Other fires happened at the now-demolished McCrossen Building, where one man died last November, and the former Strand Hotel on Colby Avenue in 2011. No one was injured in the Strand fire.
City Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher went on the attack last week, calling for quicker enforcement of building safety standards. The Hodges was condemned by the city code examiner after code violations were first identified in 2010, although the violations weren’t serious enough to require residents to be relocated.
“I don’t care if it’s expensive” to the building owner, people are living in “deplorable” and unsafe conditions, Stonecipher said.
She added: “We’re ruining our historic buildings, and it’s a real blight. This is ruining our downtown in so many ways.”
The Hodges was condemned Nov. 20 after the city code violations examiner had to force building owner Pete Sikov to act.
Officials first identified a myriad of code violations in November 2010, documents show. The violations were handed down May 16 demanding Sikov complete the work by mid-July. A follow-up condemnation order came Nov. 20.
Sikov had the Hodges almost completely up to code the week of the fire. The construction work was 85 percent done, Robinson said. “It was so close,” he said.
Sikov was under a Dec. 20 deadline to finish the work. If he would have missed the deadline, he would have had to relocate all of his tenants.
Sikov called the condemnation unnecessary because he planned to have the work done by the end of the year. He said he was over halfway done with the work when the letter came.
The condemnation unnecessarily frightened his tenants while entering the holiday season, he said.
A focal point of the order was enclosing an interior stairwell to make it safer in the case of a fire; without enclosing it, flames could come into the stairwell while people are escaping.
The city is extending the condemnation order because of the fire but has added other issues including the lack of electrical outlets onto the work list, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said.
The Hodges, McCrossen and Strand all attracted low-income residents. The Hodges and McCrossen are among the 15 buildings Sikov owns downtown.
The fires at those three buildings displaced more than 75 low-income residents.
Sikov emphasized in an e-mail that he kicked out the drug abusers and non-paying tenants as part of an effort to clean up his buildings.
Sikov said he’s actively working to rehouse the Hodges tenants by this week.
When the McCrossen Building was shuttered, Sikov offered space in his other buildings, said a former McCrossen Building resident who did not want to be named.
Many former McCrossen tenants ended up in the Hodges, the former tenant said.
Arson detectives are investigating the cause of the fire. Police are waiting on the medical examiner to determine cause and manner of death. KIRO TV reported a rumor that Pirring may have been murdered and the fire was set to cover-up the murder.
Police would not comment on the murder rumor to the Tribune.
“We will not speculate and are waiting for the investigation to conclude,” Everett Police Department spokesman Aaron Snell told the Tribune.
Most downtown buildings are in compliance of the fire code. In fall 2008, the Fire Department inspected 358 structures downtown and found only seven buildings didn’t meet the code at the time. Since then, three buildings are now in compliance.
All three buildings out of compliance are working to meet the code. The other two buildings are the Cascadian and the Belmont apartments.
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