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Originally published November 5, 2013 at 4:41 PM | Page modified November 5, 2013 at 9:50 PM

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7 injured as 10 apartments burn in suspicious Bellevue blaze

Bellevue police say an apartment fire that injured seven people and displaced several others early Tuesday is suspicious and being investigated as a possible crime.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Cassie Howard walked out of her apartment into the chilly darkness on Tuesday morning for a quick walk to her job at a Bellevue health club just a few hundred feet away.

Five minutes later, while working with a personal-training client at PRO Sports Club, Howard and the other employees were startled by a loud boom.

“It sounded like someone was squatting 600 pounds and just dropped it,” Howard said. Figuring it was nothing out of the ordinary, she kept working until nearly 35 minutes later when her boss ran up and told her that her apartment was on fire.

The 23-year-old woman’s apartment at Hampton Greens, in the 4500 block of 148th Avenue Northeast, was one of 10 units destroyed by a fire that broke out around 6:30 a.m. and injured seven people.

Fire officials estimate the damage at $1.5 million to the building and $150,000 to the contents.

Bellevue police say they are investigating the fire as a crime scene.

Bellevue police spokeswoman Carla Iafrate said that after talking to witnesses, police determined the fire and the loud boom that preceded it was suspicious. Iafrate declined to go into detail other than to say that police, the Bellevue Fire Marshal’s Office and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating.

Three of the seven people injured were taken to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, one in serious condition, another in satisfactory condition and the third was expected to be listed in satisfactory condition, according to spokeswoman Susan Gregg. The other four were taken to Eastside hospitals.

One of the injured, a female Bellevue firefighter, was hospitalized for minor injures, according to Fire Department Lt. Richard Burke.

Witnesses told police and firefighters that they saw a woman jump from a balcony. However, neither Burke nor Iafrate could confirm it.

By late Tuesday morning the blaze was out and the wooden skeleton of what was once Howard’s home was wet and smoldering. Fire crews peeled the tile roof off the building to make it safe for them to get inside, Burke said.

It’s unclear how long it will take to determine a cause.

“I felt like I was going to throw up. I still haven’t been able to find my cat,” Howard said Tuesday as she stood behind yellow crime tape outside her apartment building. She was still dressed in her PRO Sports Club sweats and wrapped in a gray wool blanket, waiting to hear news of her missing 1-year-old Norwegian forest cat, Ellie.

All of her belongings had been destroyed in the fire or by water.

She was later reunited with Ellie after the cat was found by firefighters, KING-TV reported.

Iafrate said that nine of the 10 units destroyed had been rented, but she didn’t know how many people had been displaced. The sprawling complex has about three dozen buildings on 16 acres.

Officials with the American Red Cross are helping those who lost their apartments.

Howard said she has the support of her family and boyfriend. “I feel lucky, but it’s sad this would happen.”

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

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