Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello spent his day last Saturday on a ride-along with Tacoma police, seeing first hand what officers deal with on a routine work shift.
But after an officer dropped Mello off for the night, his experiences with the city’s first-responders were only getting started.
While Mello dozed in his home about eight blocks away, someone was setting fire at an occupied Central area condominium that he owns. Formerly his home, the councilman now rents out the apartment in the 800 block of South Fife Street to a tenant.
“I was dozing off when my renter called about 11:30,” Mello told me yesterday. “I thought it was a little late for a call, so I didn’t answer. When he called again, I picked up and he was saying, `Ryan, the apartment is on fire.'”
Mello raced over to the condo, which, by then, was engulfed in flames.
“The flames were as big as trees in the neighborhood,” Mello said.
All four units at the complex were occupied at the time the fire was set, Mello said. Although no one was hurt, the blaze severely damaged two of the units, including Mello’s. Tenants in the damaged units have since been displaced. Tacoma fire and police officials are now investigating the case as an arson.
“Sounds like a vehicle hulk was set on fire and the fire damaged the building,” Tacoma Police spokesman Mark Fulghum told me in an email today. “No injuries and no suspects.”
Mello said his tenant told him that he had been working on a friend’s car in the garage of the apartment before the blaze erupted Saturday night.
“He was fixing it for a buddy who’s in Iraq right now,” Mello said. “It’s apparent that (the car shell is what) got set on fire. Neighbors told my tenant that they heard someone drive off in the alley at a high rate of speed right about the time they heard a boom and crackling and everything.”
Insurance officials are still estimating damages, but early speculation puts them at from $60,000 to $70,000, Mello said. (According to Zillow.com, each apartment in the four-unit complex is valued in the low $150,000s.)
“It’s significant,” Mello said of the damages. “Half of the garage, several exterior walls, the roof and electrical — all that’s a loss.”
Looking on the bright side, Mello called police and firefighters’ response to the fire “outstanding.”
“Tacoma’s finest,” he said.