The first reports were of smoke coming from an abandoned house on North Fifth Avenue.
But as firefighters began racing to the scene late Friday morning, their mission took on added urgency as new calls came in reporting people were inside in the burning and boarded-up home.
Firefighters pulled a woman and two men from the home. The two men were listed in critical condition Friday evening, according to authorities.
The pair were first taken by ambulance to a Yakima hospital, then flown to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, where they remained late Friday. The Yakima Fire Department declined to release their names.
The woman, who was pulled by firefighters from a bedroom window, escaped serious injury, said fire Battalion Chief Tom Sevigny.
Sevigny said the home was not supposed to be occupied and the situation was made more dangerous because the house was boarded up, trapping more heat in the building.
It was unclear how long the home at 402 N. Fifth Ave. had been vacant. Authorities said it was without electric or gas service. An attempt by the Yakima Herald-Republic to reach its owner was unsuccessful. According to records from the Yakima County Assessor’s Office, the two-story, four-bedroom home was built in 1930. Its value was assessed at $39,000.
Authorities said smoke from the fire was first reported shortly after 10 a.m. by a police detective driving through the neighborhood, located just north of the Safeway store on Fifth Avenue.
Firefighters brought the fire under control after cutting into the roof and breaking a window as smoke and flames came from the structure.
Cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Sevigny said police have been questioning the woman pulled from the fire, along with a man caught leaving the area.
If either of the hospitalized men die, the matter could become a homicide investigation, he said.
Yakima police Capt. Rod Light said it’s common in the winter months to see abandoned houses occupied by homeless people or squatters.
“They’re looking for any place to get out of the weather and get warm,” Light said.
He said more often than not, people who take up shelter in abandoned homes use them to consume narcotics.
“You find people who are drug users,” Light said. “They use these places to hide and conceal themselves to consume their drugs.”
Even when narcotics aren’t involved, Light said it’s still illegal to take up residence on someone else’s property without permission.
“They don’t have any legal authority or right to be there,” Light said. “It’s our job to assist in moving them along.”