One Year Later, Investigation Continues Into Burien’s Fatal Apartment Arson Fire

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by Ralph Nichols

One year ago today, on June 29, 2008, not long after midnight, hell erupted in a very small place in Burien. At 12:42 a.m., a 911 dispatcher received the first alarm. Seconds later, someone inside the Tara Apartments, at SW 155th Street and 5th Ave SW, yelled “Fire!” The complex was burning, flames already engulfing a stairway. Within a minute, a second 911 call reported the fire.

The June 29th, 2008 Burien arson fire at the Tara and Jenny Marie apartments claimed the lives of three.

Less than two minutes after the first call came in, Engine 28 of the Burien/Normandy Park Fire Department rolled out the door of the fire station at SW 151st Street and 8th Ave SW, arriving at the Tara Apartments exactly five minutes after that alarm was received.

By the time the first firefighters got there, “it was already fairly involved,” Burien/Normandy Park Fire Marshall Bill Harm recalled last week. The complex was engulfed in flames, which quickly spread to the adjacent Jenny Marie Apartments and threatened nearby structures, forcing fire crews into a defensive strategy from the outset.

Despite the rapid response, 8-year-old Edgar Cisneros, his grandfather, Ramon Cisneros Sanchez, 76, and Lindy Kunimoto, 49 – whose bodies would be discovered later by investigators inside the charred Tara Apartments – were probably dead by the time Engine 28 arrived. Another 14 people required medical treatment, five of whom were hospitalized with serious burns.

A shrine was built to honor the youngest fire victim, Edgar Cisneros, 8, who attended Gregory Heights Elementary.

This was Burien’s worst residential fire in nearly 20 years – and when King County Sheriff’s Office arson investigators determined that it was intentionally set, this became a case of murder.

One year later, the triple homicide and arson remains an unsolved mystery. But, King County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said last week, “This is not a cold case. It is not on the back shelf.” The case remains “under active investigation” by KCSO homicide detectives.

Urquhart said they have “at least one person of interest,” but could not comment further because the criminal investigation is open and ongoing. A man who had been heard shouting, “You can all burn in hell!” to a resident of the Tara Apartments a few days before the fire was interviewed by detectives during their initial investigation and released.

Arriving a minute after Engine 28 that deadly Sunday morning was a battalion command vehicle. One minute later, Ladder Company 29 pulled up. Engine 18 and Engine 19 and the first Medic One to respond were close behind. Over the next 20 minutes, multiple alarms summoned additional Burien firefighters and crews from the North Highline (Fire District 11), SeaTac, Tukwila, Port of Seattle, and Renton fire departments, South King Fire & Rescue (Des Moines/Federal Way), and Kent Fire & Life Safety.

“We had a very rapid response. You can’t get a much better response time, especially to a fire in the middle of the night,” Harm noted. “It was a chaotic scene … we did a good job.”

Part of the incident report details what the scene was like.

Despite their best efforts, the fire, which was burning out of control by the time the first firefighters arrived, destroyed the eight-unit Tara Apartments and heavily damaged the Jenny Marie Apartments.

Both buildings had smoke alarms but no sprinklers. Still, witnesses said later, they were shocked at how quickly the fire moved through the two adjacent complexes. Some 50 low-income residents were left homeless. The total loss, including personal property, was about $1.75 million.”

Agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) joined the Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit and King County Fire Investigators in the investigation.

Today, both the Tara (above) and Jenny Marie apartments have been rebuilt and are ready for occupancy.

A $10,000 reward is still being offered for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible. Anyone with information about the arson can call the Sheriff’s Office at 206-296-3311.

“This was a trying fire for all involved,” Harm recalled. “We got good assistance from the public afterwards.”


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4 Responses to “One Year Later, Investigation Continues Into Burien’s Fatal Apartment Arson Fire”
  1. Leah says:

    i lived next door & had to be evacuated that night. my building was in line as the fire raced up the hill. i moved 2 months later & one of the reasons why was because of this scary night. i took hundreds & hundreds of pictures over that night & the following days & weeks. from the fire, to the devastation, shock, investigation & demo. i haven’t looked at ’em too much. kinda thought someone might want them later for archival reasons.

    it was a SCARY night. when i first realized a fire was in my neighborhood i opened my door to run out & the building in front of me had flames that swirled so high into the night sky. orange, black & scary they spun up into the elevation like a tornado & reminded me of Mt. St. Helen’s – but orange. there was only time to grab my ourselves & the cat. i was so scared & it had only just begun. i’ll NEVER forget that night.

    in one fall swoop the arsonist managed to take out a little boy, an elderly man & a disabled man ripping across 3 very weakened populations of our demographic killing them all. it was a tragedy of proportions that no one could’ve imagined beforehand. my whole neighborhood was in shock for several weeks.

    besides the 1st night – the next 2 weeks were bizarre too. among the displaced residents & their family members that came back all the time, everyday – in shock – i prolly would too… we also had;
    the fire & police departments,
    FTA & arson investigators,
    demolition crew,
    news crews – EVERY channel; 4, 5, 7, 13…
    king county animal control,
    a local senior citizen home came by in their bus a couple times,
    even a Metro bus drove up the hill one day – NEVER before,
    more traffic than we’d ever had on our normally quiet hill,
    people legitimatelly grieving & holding private family services on the side of the hill…

    or to the even more public memorial on the 4rth of july that hundreds of people attended & wore special shirts & sent up hundreds of white balloons all in rememberance for the littlest victim Edgar. i believe he was 8 or 9. i always saw him running through the neighborhood with his little brother & sister. instead i was now standing on the hill in front of his apartment with his little brother & sister & hundreds of people & family who were all sobbing for the little boy who was no more.

    it was sad, shocking & disgusting when this all went down. 2 months later i had to move. & this night was a MAJOR part of the reason why i didn’t feel safe at my old apt anymore. i wish this could get solved. i feel like its going to be forgotten about.

  2. Kathi says:

    Pray the Arsonist gets caught.
    Someone out there knows something,Lets hope they do the right thing one day (soon)
    and turn in the guilty party so they victims can get closure.

  3. Nicole says:

    My son was a really good friend of Omar (edgar Cisneros), Today, a year later , we still fell devistated by this tradgic loss,He will forever be missed, I can only hope that justice will be served soon for this little boy and his grandpa, and the other victim.
    Omar, we love you and will never forget you!!!

  4. Kari says:

    Amen Leah, Amen……(The news crews where parked right outside our place.)

    I’ll never forget…..that’s impossible!!

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