A suspected arsonist doused a carpeted stairwell in gasoline and lit it on fire a few minutes after midnight on New Year’s Day as 750 revelers celebrated the new year at Neighbours, one of Seattle’s oldest gay clubs.
“It was like the Carrie movie,” US Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Bostick recounted, “you see just fire everywhere. And that’s all you can see and for a second, that’s all you’re focused on.”
Bostick rushed to grab a fire extinguisher from behind the bar and was joined by Air Force member Mike Casey and went to work fighting the gasoline-fueled fire until the club’s sprinkler system was activated.
“You know, in 30 seconds, if that fire did what the arsonist intended, there’s no telling how many people could have died,” said Bostick.
Bostick and Casey tamed flames filling the staircase, after an arsonist poured gasoline on the carpeted stairway from a plastic liter gas can, dropped the can on the top step, and lit it ablaze from the bottom, according to KTVU news.
“If we hadn’t reacted to it, it would have taken too long for someone to react, and that fire would have become unmanageable in another 30 seconds,’’ Bostick added.
Bostick believes the arsonist was hoping to trap and kill everyone in Seattle’s most established gay nightclub.
“I think this person walked up the stairs with the can in their hand and poured it out as they walked. They set it down, went back down the stairs and lit it, with the intent to blow up the gas can.”
Bostick, who tracks terrorism for a living, says the arson attack was not merely a hate crime.
“This was a planned attack on a large quantity of people in order to affect an entire community,” he said. “To me, that’s terrorism.”
Seattle arson investigators are searching through surveillance video from the club, and neighboring businesses, looking for suspects and clues.
The Neighbours nightclub fire is eerily reminiscent of an gasoline-fueled arson fire set at a gay bar in New Orleans’ French Quarter. On June 24, 1973, a fire broke out at the Upstairs Lounge, claimed 32 lives and became the deadliest fire in New Orleans history and the largest massacre of gay people ever in the U.S.
The arsonist had doused the stairs leading up to the bar with Ronsonol lighter fluid before setting the blaze from below. Read more about the incident here.
Watch a KTVU news report below:
Neighbours Nightclub’s official statement: