Old motel on 'dangerous buildings' list burns

Seattle police officers arrested four transients who had been squatters in an abandoned, boarded-up motel on Aurora Avenue North when it caught fire yesterday.

The old building in the 11500 block, the former Rest Inn Motel, was scheduled to be demolished in the next few weeks to make way for a 70-unit apartment complex.

Raymond John Maclean, the property owner, said he encountered homeless youths living in the building about a week ago and told them to clear out.

"I peeked my head in the door and saw them cooking with propane, and it smelled so bad in there," said Maclean, who owns and develops real estate in Seattle and the Eastside.

Fire investigators last night had not determined the cause of the fire, which shut down traffic in both directions on Aurora for more than two hours.

The four taken into custody on suspicion of criminal trespassing were in their teens and early 20s. None suffered injuries. Two dogs and a cat reportedly died in the fire. No other buildings were damaged.

The fire was reported about 11:15 a.m. Helen Fitzpatrick, Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman, said the motel already was on the department's "dangerous buildings" list.

As such, firefighters did not enter the motel but surrounded it and kept the fire from spreading to nearby buildings, including an apartment building and a storage-unit company. The motel is across the street from the Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery.

About 59 firefighters responded in 21 firetrucks and vehicles.

Seattle City Light disconnected electricity to parts of the neighborhood, which affected some businesses on Aurora Avenue North and the administrative offices of Northwest Hospital. The hospital's medical units were not affected.

Tony Petty, 33, who described himself as a "street brother" to two of the people arrested yesterday, said as many as 20 people regularly squat inside the motel. He said they ranged in age from 14 to 22 years old and that they spend their days at Westlake Park.

"At night, they need a place to sleep," Petty said. "They didn't bother anybody. They'd be gone by noon."

Shirley Levasseur, 68, who has lived in the neighborhood for 45 years, said she has seen prostitutes and young transients walking in and out of the motel since it was shut down, about five years ago.

She said some of the transients wait in nearby lots in cars and then spend the night inside the motel.

"What can you do?" she said. "You complain and complain to the city. They tell you they're going to knock it down."

A local development partnership headed by Maclean recently purchased the motel and the lot for $1 million. Maclean said he has permits to build a mixed-use apartment complex with commercial and retail space on the first floor.

Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or mko@seattletimes.com