Seattle Courant Archive

Deadly Capitol Hill fire ruled arson

Deadly Capitol Hill fire ruled arson

By Sonia Krishan
October 28, 2008

The man, 89-year-old Ed Jackson, was supposed to have moved out that same day because the building was going to be torn down, authorities said.

Because the building was slated for demolition, there was no loss to the value of the structure, Vander Houwen said. The loss to Jackson's things was estimated at $75,000.

Those who knew Jackson described him as distraught about leaving his apartment, where he had lived for nearly 40 years.

His wife had died in 2004, according to death records. He was living in the apartment alone, said Dennis Saxman, a friend.

Saxman called him "a feisty man with nerves of steel," who was having a hard time dealing with the impending move. Jackson had been the building manager for years, according to Saxman and former tenants.

"It was tough on him," Saxman said. "He had been here for so long."

Around 6:20 a.m., flames broke out on the first floor of the 26-unit complex and quickly spread to the fourth floor. Jackson, who lived on the second floor, was the only person in the 26-unit building who hadn't moved out.

Dave Scudder, a former tenant who lived in the unit above the fire victim's, said the man likely didn't have resources or family to help him move.

"He was a pack rat," Scudder said. "He had storage lockers full of stuff. You got the sense that his apartment was pretty full of things that he kept over the years. The idea of moving was probably pretty scary and daunting."

The owner had told him he needed to vacate the apartment by Monday, said ReneƩ Witt, spokeswoman for the Seattle Police Department.

"Apparently, he was the last holdout," she said.

She said there was so much stuff in his apartment that "it was spewing over onto the balcony" as the flames grew. It's unclear at this point if that impeded his ability to get out in time, she said.

Ten minutes after fire officials got the first call, a second alarm went out at 6:30 a.m. and 65 firefighters showed up to fight the blaze, Vander Houwen said.

The fire was out by 7:30 a.m. One firefighter suffered minor injuries and was taken to Harborview Medical Center.

According to a land-use notice, the structure is to be replaced by a six-story residential building with ground-floor retail and parking for more than 100 cars underground.

"[He] definitely puts a human face on the sort of rush for condo conversions," Scudder said of Jackson. "He's one of those people who sort of fell through the cracks."

Scudder said he had been "a fixture" at the building, known to its tenants as "a very sweet man."

"It was a pretty raucous corner on Capitol Hill, but [he] was always out there, any time of day or any time of night, defending the building and its residents," Scudder said.

John Werner, who bought the complex in 1985 and sold it in 2006, said he had known Jackson for more than 20 years.

In fact, Werner said, he had employed him and his wife to manage the property.

Werner described him as robust, saying he didn't make his first visit to a doctor until his early 80s. He and his wife apparently had no children and had lived in the building since 1969, Werner said.

"He was a fine gentleman, very dependable," Werner said. "It's very sad."

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or

Seattle Times staff reporter Noelene Clark contributed to this report.