Fire-ravaged historic Seattle building could soon collapse

Fire-ravaged historic Seattle building could soon collapse »Play Video

SEATTLE -- A Christmas Eve fire ravaged a landmark building in Seattle's International District, and fire officials fear the structure could soon collapse.

The flames were out by Christmas morning, but the future of the three-story brick building is uncertain. The big concern is that the weakened structure could come crashing down, taking with it generations of memories -- both good and horrendous.

"It's a big loss. There's a lot of history in that building," said Timothy Woo, whose family owns the building. "It defines Chinatown."

The building was built more than a century ago, but now it's a safety hazard that is too dangerous to enter or even get near.

"We have set up a collapse zone, and that's one of the reasons we are this far out," said Sue Stangl of the Seattle Fire Department.

Woo said he and his family are proud of the building, which was once a prominent hotel.

"When Chinese immigrants came here, they stayed here traveling from San francisco up to Alaska," he said.

Today, the building hosts some of the neighborhood's best known businesses and restaurants. The Woo family sealed off the two upper floors decades ago, and the City of Seattle had the building listed on its "dangerous buildings list."

"The hotel is pretty much preserved with all the furnishings, and there are lots of murals on the inside containing pictures and stories of home, you know, China," Woo said.

Tuesday's fire turned all that into ash and soot and memories. Investigators don't know how it started because they've yet to go inside.

"I think the over-arching concern is just the integrity of the entire building," Stangl said.

Nobody was hurt in the blaze, but seven business suffered heavy smoke and water damage and 46 people who live nearby were forced out of their homes.

"Many people didn't have power to their homes, so they used our facility to spend the night and get a little sleep," said Colin Downey with the American Red Cross.

The building was also the site of the infamous 1983 Wah Mee Massacre, in which robbers murdered 13 people inside a gambling club.

A crew of fire investigators will enter the building on Thursday to determine how the fire started and if it's safe to go inside.