Olympia fire claims life of man in wheelchair

Staff writerMay 1, 2014 

Flowers have been left on the grass outside an Olympia apartment building where a man in a wheelchair died Wednesday, April 30, 2014.


The man who died Wednesday night in an apartment fire at the Capitol House Apartments on Olympia's west side used a wheelchair to get around, a fire investigator said.

The fire was confined to a single unit on the second-floor where the man lived.

Investigators still don't know what caused the fire, but most of the damage was confined to the area of the apartment where the man was sitting in his wheelchair, Olympia Fire Marshal Rob Bradley said.

"The primary damage was to the wheelchair apparatus and the victim," he said.

Investigators are still trying to determine how mobile the man was, and why he was unable to get help before he and his wheelchair caught fire, Bradley added. An ignition source has not been located, he said.

"He was severely burned in the fire," Bradley said.

The Thurston County Coroner's Office will conduct an autopsy of the deceased man Friday, and will release his name afterward, Coroner Gary Warnock said.

The fire was reported at the Capitol House Apartments at 420 Sherman Street at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Witnesses saw smoke and fire coming from the second-floor apartment. It took about 15 minutes to put out the fire.

Later Wednesday night, resident at the Capitol House Apartments had already returned to their apartments.

Resident Jake Smith said he was headed to Meconi's for a sub when the fire alarm sounded, and he assumed it was a false alarm. When he returned, the building had been evacuated, he said.

"It was cleared pretty quick," he said.

On Thursday morning, there were flowers left outside the historic building below the second-floor apartment where the man died. The building was built around 1924, and served as the first St. Peter Hospital. It was converted to about 100 apartments in 1971 after the hospital moved to its present location on Lilly Road.

Bradley said investigators are sifting through the apartment, trying to determine how it started. Investigators hope to have more clues after the deceased man's autopsy is complete, but it could take weeks before full toxicology results are available, he said.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445; jpawloski@theolympian.com

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