There have been fourteen fires in the Greenwood neighborhood since June, Assistant Seattle Fire Chief A.D. Vickery told the crowd at a large community meeting at the Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church last night. Though city officials have yet to figure out whether they are dealing with one culprit or several, one thing is certain: none of these fires was accidental.

  • Kaia Chessen
The recent scourge of arson in Greenwood has severely injured one man and devastated many businesses, and now the intentional fires seem to be escalating in frequency and audacity (this week alone there were three fires set in one night, beginning late Sunday and stretching into the early hours of Monday morning).

In his 20 years of serving the community, Vickery told the meeting, he has seen six fire fighters perish in the line of duty, each one from a fire caused by arson. “We are taking this very seriously,” he said.
  • Kaia Chessen

This was the second time he had given the speech yesterday evening.

Only one meeting had been planned last night, but a second one was called before the first had even concluded because the room set aside for the original meeting was full by starting time (and, seeing as the fire department was helping to run the meeting, the room's fire-code limit of 400 people was strictly adhered to). Meanwhile, another several hundred anxious residents convened in the lobby and sanctuary, waiting for the meeting’s impromptu sequel to commence. estimates a total of 800 people attended, while the Phinney ridge Blog estimated 600, but whatever the number, it seemed as though the entire neighborhood—whether out of fear, anger, concern—had descended upon the church.

  • Kaia Chessen
Mayor-elect Mike McGinn made an appearance, reassuring the crowd that his team was doing its part (maintaining street lights; upping the frequency of the city’s trash and recycling pick-up regimen), as did City Councilman Nick Licata. Vickery and Acting Assistant Seattle Police Chief Paul McDonagh warned residents to keep porch lights on and flammable material under wraps—and not to sleep in their places of business. (No one is going to catch any criminals that way, they said, and you are putting yourselves in danger.)

McDonagh informed the crowd of an increased police presence in both “visibile and invisible” vehicles. But, he reminded them, "you are our eyes and ears.” He also reminded the crowd that the recent murder of Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton was resolved through tips from the public. He hoped these crimes might be as well.

A man who introduced himself as Steve, the owner of a local establishment, The Pig and Whistle, was skeptical of police efforts. He spoke of an encounter he had had recently with a man who he believed to be the arsonist himself: a young white man, 19-22 years old, skeletally thin, who had somehow managed to climb under wire fencing at the Rosewood Guitar Shop. He described the man as having a strange smile, looking up at the wreckage. “He was admiring his work,” Steve said. “He got scared when he saw me.” He reported the interaction, but police did not arrive for several hours. “To them it’s just a job,” he said, “but to me, it’s my life.”

  • Kaia Chessen
Another woman, the manager of the former Green Bean Coffeehouse on NW 85th Street (now no more than ash and rubble) said the cafe had had some insurance, but not enough to refurbish everything that was lost. They might get enough insurance money to re-purchase the equipment, but that’s still up in the air. “We had a whole registry of customers who had prepaid, up to $50, for drinks," she said. "All of our records of that are gone now."

One man had formed a community watch group that is patrolling the streets at night. “Is it best to patrol by car or on foot?” he asked McDonagh.

“You are more than welcome to do it, but call 911 if you see something," McDonagh replied. "Don’t make contact. That’s what you pay us to do.”

Currently, the reward offered for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist(s) is $25,000. The estimated damages? $2 million and growing.