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Performer describes arson scene aftermath as packed Seattle club evacuates

Over 750 patrons were celebrating New Year's at the time and police say the fire was quickly discovered. (KIRO Radio Photo/Chris Sullivan)

A quick-thinking New Year’s Eve nightclub patron is being credited with saving hundreds of lives after someone set the club on fire just after midnight.

Seattle Police say someone poured gasoline on a carpeted stairway just after midnight on New Year’s at Capitol Hill nightclub Neighbours.

Over 750 patrons were celebrating New Year’s at the time and police say the fire was quickly discovered.

Aleksa Manila had just finished performing when she heard the fire alarm go off.

“One of the staff members went upstairs and said we’re clearing the nightclub, and I said, ‘Oh my god what’s going on?’ And then I started smelling kerosene and we started noticing that there was smoke,” Manila told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz.

The fire was set on the staircase that leads to the club from a back alley. There is a second exit to the club so the party-goers were able to make it to safety on Broadway.

Manila said there was no panic because most people didn’t notice the fire. They just thought someone had pulled the alarm.

“The staircase – water was just gushing out and we walked into this puddle of water and at that point we were like, something happened here,” said Manila.

Once outside, Manila said word quickly spread about the fire, and she started realizing how bad it could have been.

“Thank goodness nothing fatal happened but that could have been an awful nightmare. That could have been an awful New Year’s Eve that I would not want to have seen, witnessed or experienced.”

Neighbours is well known as one of the city’s oldest and most popular gay nightclubs. Manila is concerned that someone targeted the club because of its message and clientele. “I certainly wasn’t implying that is was a hate crime, that it was homophobia, but the fact is we are the number one gay nightclub for the past three decades.”

The Seattle Police Department says they don’t have any motive for the crime but they don’t have any suspects either.

Manila said whoever is responsible, that person won’t stop the club from celebrating diversity.

“For somebody to walk into an establishment like that, with a gallon of gas and to have enough time to pour it – that to me, the way I interpret it – that had intent. That was a malicious act to harm the establishment and to harm people.”

It’s unclear when the nightclub will be able to reopen. The fire did about a thousand dollars damage to the staircase. There’s about $6,000 worth of water damage caused by the sprinkler system that went off.

Jason Rantz on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM

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