Nine firefighters were injured when an apparent natural gas leak sparked an explosion early Wednesday that leveled three businesses in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood.
Eight firefighters and one battalion chief were taken to Harborview Medical Center with minor injuries, Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Corey Orvold said.
All were later released early Wednesday.
There were no reports of deaths, although search teams were expected to sift through the rubble.
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Firefighters had responded to a report of a natural gas leak near Greenwood Avenue North and North 85th Street around 1:04 a.m., said Orvold. As firefighters were searching for the source of the leak, a huge explosion ripped through the buildings about 1:40 a.m.
The blast and resulting fire prompted a huge response by emergency crews, which pulled injured firefighters from the rubble. Firefighters spent hours dousing the flames.
Three businesses — NeptuneCoffee, Mr. Gyros and a Quik Stop convenience store — were destroyed in the blast. A bike shop, G & O Family Cyclery, was heavily damaged.
“It just feels like a bomb went off,” said bike shop owner David Giugliano, who heard the blast from his home about four blocks away.
Giugliano said the force of the blast embedded debris from Neptune Coffee into the side of his shop.
“I don’t know how bad it is,” said Giugliano. “I just feel terrible for the neighborhood. I love this block.”
Bryan Howard, a photographer for Q13 FOX, was covering the reported gas leak on the corner of North 84th Street and Greenwood Avenue North when the building exploded.
“I started running … debris was falling from the sky,” he said.
Howard said he saw several injured firefighters, including one with cuts on the back of his head and blood on his face.
Resident Erica Jorgensen, 45, said she heard a big boom and thought it was an earthquake.
She said her daughter takes a bus on North 85th Street to get to school.
“I’m feeling fortunate this didn’t happen during the day,” Jorgensen said. “My daughter could have been killed.”
The businesses that were destroyed were housed in two adjacent buildings — one built in 1910, the other in 1926 — that were purchased three years ago by a Seattle company called Greenwood Urban LLC, according to King County property records.
The majority owner of Greenwood Urban LLC is Michael Slattery, who is the proprietor of Slattery Properties, a 30-year-old commercial real estate development and management firm headquartered in the Fisherman’s Commerce Building on Salmon Bay. The two buildings have a combined value of just over $2.2 million, the records say.
Buildings up to a block and a half away were damaged by the force of the blast. Debris littered the upper branches of nearby trees.
The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network reports the blast was detected by seismic instruments 250 meters away.
“This is the main strip. It’s definitely going to affect people,” said Darla Weideman, 34, cafe manager.
The cafe set up a table with coffee for first responders.
“We got our problems, but you never think of a gas explosion (in Greenwood) – that’s the last thing you think of, and the most dramatic,” she said.
Andy Wappler, spokesman for Puget Sound Energy, said investigators have not pinpointed the source of the blast, but the theory that it was caused by natural gas is a “reasonable assumption.” However, it could take weeks before that’s confirmed, he said.
In the meantime, gas has been shut off to the area, he said.
If the explosion was caused by a buildup of natural gas, he said it’s unclear whether it was ignited inside or outside the building.
Sammy Arsheed, who owns Mr. Gyros with his brother, said he thought the leak came from outside his restaurant.
“Firefighters were outside the building trying to put the leak out,” he said early Wednesday.
Arsheed said his business was not doing any renovations.
When he arrived at the scene about 2 a.m., Arsheed said his first reaction was, “How did this happen? How did this happen?”
His next step?
“We rebuild, brother. Better than ever. This will not slow us down, friend.”
By 7 a.m., five injured firefighters had been released from Harborview and four remaining firefighters were in the process of being discharged, said hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg.
While some suffered minor cuts and abrasions, others didn’t suffer any injuries, but due to the force of the explosion were examined by doctors to rule out internal injuries, Gregg said. The remaining injured firefighters were released by 8 a.m.
“We know, as firefighters, this is a very dangerous job,” Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said at the scene.
“These men and women risked their lives this morning, as they do every day, to keep our community safe. I am grateful for their service and all of our first responders,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement
The explosion happened across North 85th from the site of a 2009 arson that destroyed four restaurants in the 1910-era Eleanor Roosevelt Building and caused heavy smoke and water damage to the Taproot Theatre playhouse.
Kevin Swalwell, a mentally ill homeless man with a history of setting fires, pleaded guilty in connection with the fire and nine others. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The fires he set caused an estimated $3 million in damage.