Officials believe individuals in a homeless encampment started a fire that firefighters from Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline extinguished Tuesday night, but not before it scorched a 40-foot cedar tree and had a portion of an I-5 off-ramp blocked for a short time.
Units from Fire District 1 Station 19 and the Shoreline Fire Department arrived near the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center about 9 p.m. Tuesday to find a plume of smoke rising from a greenbelt between the northbound off-ramp from I-5 and the former Evergreen Elementary School site.
Firefighters were able to reach the fire by slipping through a hole in a chain link fence that separates the greenbelt from the former school grounds.
Mountlake Terrace Police Commander Kevin Pickard said on Wednesday that the fire was started by homeless individuals camping in the greenbelt.
Mountlake Terrace police responded to the incident Tuesday night, interviewed other vagrants found on the former school property, conducted a short search for those who may have started the fire, but made no arrests.
“We are aware of who the parties are,” Pickard said on Wednesday.
A day after the firefighters responded to the fire, the smell of smoke still lingered in the air at the encampment. A 40-foot cedar tree was seen burnt from its base to its top; ashes were seen covering garbage, pots and pans, plastic milk crates, and various other items scattered around the site.
The nearly 17 acres of vacant land along side I-5 south of 236th Street Southwest – referred to as the Gateway Area by Mountlake Terrace officials – is the site of a new mixed-use development that may break ground this month. The greenbelt where Tuesday’s fire broke out will be used by Sound Transit to build elevated tracks for the Lynnwood Link light rail, expected to open in December 2023.
Commander Pickard noted that all the development coming soon to the Gateway Area land will likely chase away trespassers. “It’s a site that will be entering a construction phase soon and that should limit access to the property,” he said.
–Story and photos by Doug Petrowski