News

Gas fumes ignite garage, house

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

A large house fire, with flames that licked nearby treetops, brought residents in the Marine View Park neighborhood out of their holiday-festooned houses Wednesday.

Noble Merrifield, who owns the now-charred and gaping home in the 30300 block of Ninth Avenue South, told fire investigators he was working on his motorcycle in the garage and lit a lighter near the engine.

Merrifield told fire officials it didnÂ’t seem like gas was getting into the engine, so he lit the lighter near the spark plugs. The ambient gas fumes ignited quickly, Federal Way Fire Department spokeswoman Debbie Goetz said. As he tried to get away from the fire, he knocked over a gallon-sized container of gasoline that was in the garage, she said.

When firefighters arrived, the garage was fully ablaze and flames were creeping into the house, battalion chief Jerry Thorson said.

Firefighters hit the fire with a high-powered water cannon mounted on the roof of the fire truck. They poured about 1,000 gallons per second of water into the flames until they got the fire under control.

As flames devoured the garage of MerrifieldÂ’s single-story, wood-frame beige house with blue trim, he stood outside in the rain dialing his cell phone, trying to call his wife in Chicago.

Merrifield was the only person in the house, along with their two dogs. No one was injured and both dogs were unharmed.

The fire destroyed the garage, including a Ford Bronco parked inside, and crept into the front portion of the living room, broke out the front window and burned the top of a couch near the window, officials said.

Fire department investigators estimated the fire caused about $100,000 of damage to the house and about $75,000 worth of damage to the contents. While the residential portion of the house is structurally intact, Goetz said, department officials noted there was extensive smoke, heat and water damage to the interior.

Merrifield was insured, Goetz said, but he had just laid down a new hardwood floor because they were trying to sell the house.

The fire department called the Red Cross for housing assistance, but Goetz said Merrifield declined shelter because he said he could stay with friends.

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