UW Bothell assesses impact of big downtown fire

Students record Fire Lt. Adam Lamb

Nursing students record Lt. Adam Lamb describing Bothell Main Street fire.

By Douglas Esser
City of Bothell Fire Lt. Adam Lamb was on the first truck responding to multiple 911 calls just before 3 a.m. Friday, July 22, for a huge fire downtown. When the truck sirened out of the Station 42 he could see the orange glow in the sky. He thought, “This is the big one.”

The wood framing for a housing reconstruction of the historic Mercantile building was going up like a five-story bonfire. Burning debris spread flames to the Bothell Mall building and other Main Street business. “It was pretty unbelievable,” Lamb recently told a group of University of Washington Bothell nursing students.

Fortunately, no one was killed or injured as the fire grew to three alarms. By dawn, the still-smoking Mercantile building was reduced to its brick façade and a melted construction crane. The Bothell Mall and its popular Kozy Corner Café were destroyed. The nearby Wells Fargo bank and other buildings were damaged and blackened.

It’s a scar on the city that Lamb, right, like most other Bothell residents, still feels. Instead of replacing a fire hose cover that has burn damage, firefighters keep it as a reminder, with the date marked as indelibly as it remains on their minds.

Lt. Lamb displays burn damage

The Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) students talked with Lamb and others to conduct a community health assessment. It will to document “the resilience of the community a year later and how they’re rebuilding,” said Karen Bowman, a lecturer in the School of Nursing & Health Studies.

Bowman assigned her BNURS 424 class to interview three groups: business owners, community members, and firefighters, police and utility workers. This is the final class for 15 seniors graduating in nursing. The students are producing a video, audio recordings, a poster and a document with photos.

Why is this a nursing project?

“Wherever nurses are, we have an overarching framework of community and public health. That’s why this is fitting for a nursing and community health class – so they can understand the relationship between nursing and the community,” said Bowman, who earned her bachelor’s at the University of Washington Bothell in 2001.

Senior Kinuyo Douwes said it gives her the clinical field work she needs to graduate and experience that could help an employer.

damaged Wells Fargo bank
smoking building
Wells Fargo reopened
Mercantile building rebuild

Cause of fire a mystery
The fire marshal and federal investigators couldn’t determine the cause of last summer’s fire or even where it started because of extensive damage. Any evidence was destroyed.

The city focused on rebuilding and helping affected businesses. Construction resumed, and the framework rose again at the Mercantile building. Wells Fargo and other businesses made repairs and re-opened. But the Bothell Mall remains a hole in the ground as the anniversary of the conflagration approaches.

The city and the Greater Bothell Chamber of Commerce plan a one-year commemoration in July, said city Communications Officer Barbara Ramey. That’s where the UW Bothell students are expected to display their project to show how different people felt, depending on their role.

“It will also help us to better understand how we can help the community recover after a disaster by better understanding the impacts to not only the first responders and those directly affected by the incident, but also the community as a whole,” said Jennifer Warmke, the city’s emergency preparedness coordinator.

Although the student assessment is aimed toward the July 22 commemoration, the project will run through summer quarter, recording the testimony of those who witnessed the fire.

Audio and transcripts will be archived at the Community Voices collection at the UW Bothell-Cascadia College Library, which showcases student oral history research.

“Student interviews with community members about the Bothell fire will be of ongoing interest to both Bothell residents and other UW Bothell student researchers,” said Denise Hattwig, curator for digital scholarship and collections.

Bowman herself has a perspective. She recalls eating at the Kozy Corner with other faculty. “It was a great place.”

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