One Year Later, Investigation Continues Into Burien’s Fatal Apartment Arson Fire
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 â€œFire!â€ The complex was burning, flames already engulfing a stairway. Within a minute, a second 911 call reported the fire.
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, â€œit was already fairly involved,â€ 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 â€“ whose bodies would be discovered later by investigators inside the charred Tara Apartments â€“ were probably dead by the time Engine 28 arrived. Another 14 people required medical treatment, five of whom were hospitalized with serious burns.
This was Burienâ€™s worst residential fire in nearly 20 years â€“ and when King County Sheriffâ€™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 Sheriffâ€™s spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said last week, â€œThis is not a cold case. It is not on the back shelf.â€ The case remains â€œunder active investigationâ€ by KCSO homicide detectives.
Urquhart said they have â€œat least one person of interest,â€ but could not comment further because the criminal investigation is open and ongoing. A man who had been heard shouting, â€œYou can all burn in hell!â€ 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.
â€œWe had a very rapid response. You canâ€™t get a much better response time, especially to a fire in the middle of the night,â€ Harm noted. â€œIt was a chaotic scene â€¦ we did a good job.â€
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.â€
Agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) joined the Sheriffâ€™s Office Major Crimes Unit and King County Fire Investigators in the investigation.
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.
â€œThis was a trying fire for all involved,â€ Harm recalled. â€œWe got good assistance from the public afterwards.â€
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