Man arrested for arson after fire set in Renton hotel housing homeless people

A homeless man was arrested for arson after a couch was set afire in a room at the Red Lion Hotel in Renton Wednesday morning, according to the Renton Police Department. Since April, the hotel has provided shelter to more than 200 people in an effort to thin out crowded shelters and protect people from the spread of COVID-19.

Renton firefighter crews responded to the fire on the sixth floor and said a sprinkler system helped to contain the flames. The building was evacuated, and no injuries were reported, according to The Associated Press.

Six rooms were damaged by water or smoke. People staying in those rooms were moved to different rooms at the hotel.

According to a Thursday statement by the Police Department, the suspect, a 46-year-old man who had lived at the hotel for three weeks, became upset with staff members. He told staff, “I’m going to burn this place down,” according to a statement by police. A preliminary arson investigation indicated that the fire started on a couch. 

The Renton hotel has primarily housed people who were previously staying at the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Morrison Hotel shelter in Seattle. Many of those served by this shelter have disabilities, serious mental illness or substance use disorders, according to previous reporting by The Seattle Times. 

King County is currently paying for the hotel, along with three other hotels in the region, to house those who are homeless. The county spends close to $2 million per month for use of the hotels, according to Sherry Hamilton, spokesperson for the King County Department of Community and Human Services. 

Early into the county’s use of the Red Lion Hotel, Renton city officials started pushing back. In May, Renton leaders publicly asked King County to move people living at the hotel out by July, citing a large increase in 911 calls. 

According to earlier reporting by The Seattle Times, Renton police Chief Ed VanValey told the King County Council in early May that there had been a 79% increase in calls from the hotel’s location — sometimes nine to 12 calls in a single day. Renton Regional Fire Authority Chief Rick Marshall told the council the fire department fielded 30 calls in April, whereas over the same period last year it fielded one.  

This week, Renton city officials rushed forward legislation that would set a six-month move-out date at the Red Lion. Renton City Council could vote the legislation into law as early as next week, when it comes up for a first reading.

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