The trailer at Hi-Line RV Rentals is so badly burned you can see right through it into the business’ parking lot. Just up the street, at an abandoned gas station, charred debris is scattered around a doorway of what was once the station’s bathroom.
These are two scenes of fires that happened over the past few weeks at sites along Pacific Highway South. South King Fire and Rescue investigators believe the fires were intentionally set, and the Federal Way Police Department is investigating them both as arson.
The fires took place within days of each other, and the locations are three-fourths of a mile apart. However, investigators are not saying that the two fires are related.
“We can’t come out and say that they’re related,” said South King spokeswoman Kendra Kay. “However, we’re looking at the fact that they all occurred in the same area, that they occurred in the overnight to morning hours and the fact that they all used combustibles to get started.”
“Since there appears to be a possible pattern, this information is shared with the public and shared with area patrol sectors to heighten awareness of suspicious activity,” Federal Way police spokeswoman Cathy Schrock wrote in an email regarding questions about the arson investigation.
The fire at the abandoned gas station around 4:45 a.m. March 8. Kay reported a passerby called 911, and firefighters arrived to find smoke emanating from the north side of the gas station from what was once a bathroom. South King investigators believe the blaze started after papers were lit on fire inside the building. The building is at the intersection of South 288th Street and Pacific Highway South.
Schrock said detectives are still investigating the fire, and a fingerprint analysis is being conducted on materials found near where the fire started.
The gas station has been abandoned for several years, said workers at a business nearby (they declined to give their names and the name of their business). The area has become a haven for vandals, they say, with incidents of graffiti and people congregating at the abandoned gas station.
The fire at Hi-Line RV Rentals occurred at around 2:15 a.m. March 11. Firefighters responded to the scene after receiving a phone call from several witnesses. At both the gas station and Hi-Line, Kay said, combustible materials were used in the fire — a broad term to describe any material that can be ignited. Schrock said that an accelerant — a liquid or flammable substance — was not found at either site.
Hi-Line RV is located in a large building that shares space with a couple of car repair shops. The business rents U-Haul trucks and RVs, and operates an RV repair shop. The property is ringed by a chain-link fence. The burned trailer sits near the entrance of the business, just back from the sidewalk along Pacific Highway South. The trailer was used to store files.
Employee Shannon Brengman said that a group of people approached employees after the fire and asked for $10 for being the ones who called 911 — they were denied. Brengman also described the area around Hi-Line RV as rife with vandalism. Sometimes trailers will be tagged with graffiti, or glass will be broken on vehicles’ windows. Sometimes employees will find people sleeping inside their parking lot.
Schrock said that detectives viewed a surveillance video from Hi-Line RV, but the footage was unusable. Detectives collected items from the site of the fire that are being analyzed for fingerprints.
There was a third fire, which occurred Feb. 22, involving a car being set on fire at an apartment complex off of Pacific Highway South. Schrock said that the fire was “assumed to be arson,” but no detective has been assigned to investigate it. According to a police report, the fire occurred at 1:10 a.m. at the Crestview West apartment complex. The fire was called in by a woman who told 911 dispatchers that the car was owned by her son and that he had left the complex “mad.” Police found no evidence that anyone was inside the car at the time of the fire, and no one was injured in the fire. The Crestview West complex is directly south of Hi-Line RV Rentals, and north of the gas station.
Kay said intentional fires that cause property damage like these fires are rare in the Federal Way area.
“That’s the difference between when kids might play with matches and lighters,” she said. “There’s no intent to cause damage. In these cases, there was intent to cause damage.”