Suspected arsonist arrested in Renton hotel fire

RENTON, Wash. — A man who was living a controversial hotel-turned-homeless shelter in Renton has been arrested after allegedly setting fire to his room, endangering several lives and forcing the complex evacuation of some 200 people, police said.

Firefighters responded to the Red Lion Hotel on South Grady Way in Renton just after noon Wednesday for reports of a fire in a 6th floor room.

As firefighters worked to douse the fire, a witness led police to a man standing outside the building who they claimed had started the blaze.

Investigators learned the man had been living at the shelter for about three weeks and had become upset with hotel staff members Wednesday morning telling them, “I’m going to burn this place down,” according to Renton Police. The man then locked himself in his 6th floor room.

A locksmith was called to break open the door but as he and staff members approached the room they found thick smoke on the floor and the man standing in his doorway. The locksmith grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to get into the room but there was already too much heat and smoke.

The suspect eventually made it outside where he was  arrested by police.

Investigators determined the man had set fire to a couch inside the room and while the flames were contained to the one room thanks to help from the sprinkler system, there was extensive smoke and fire damage to the 5th and 6th floors of the building, police said.

Officers said some of the 200 residents suffer from mental and physical disabilities and it made for a very difficult evacuation. Fire department officials said the fire “had placed multiple lives in danger.”

The 46-year-old suspect has since been booked into the King County Regional Justice Center for investigation of first degree arson. 

Several prior calls to hotel

Since the beginning of April, firefighters and medics have been called to the hotel 277 times.

The hotel has been housing homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s use as a temporary homeless shelter has caused a dispute between city and county officials.

The county says the homeless housing arrangement at the Red Lion Hotel has slowed the spread of coronavirus, but the city says it has led to an increase in crime in the area.

City officials are on track to consider legislation that would set a six-month move-out date. City officials have been concerned after King County and the Downtown Emergency Services Center moved people from Seattle’s largest congregate shelter to the hotel in April. Municipal officials say Renton police reported a dramatic increase in service calls to the hotel, blaming some neighborhood crime on its residents.

King County has rented all 255 rooms at the Renton Red Lion, but Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone has previously asked the King County Council to remove the clients after its original 90-day lease had expired.

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