In the first few seconds after the fire roared up the back stairway of Neighbours nightclub in Seattle, US Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Bostick was one of a few New Year’s Eve revelers who reacted immediately.
“I’m embarrassed to say, my first move was to go after it with cups of water. Then I quickly realized, this fire is way bigger than that, he said.
In the next breath, the Army Intelligence veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan tours sharpens his tone, as if news of impending violence is to follow.
“You know, in 30 seconds, if that fire did what the arsonist intended, there’s no telling how many people could have died."
While 750 people counted down to the new year, Bostick rushed to grab a fire extinguisher from behind the bar. He and Air Force member Mike Casey went to work putting out the gasoline-fueled fire.
“It was like the Carrie movie,” 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 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.
“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 said.
While Bostick and Casey put out the fire, the nightclub’s sprinkler system rained water down on every surface. Other patrons shouted “fire!” Hundreds of revelers calmly—but quickly—left the nightclub through the other exit. No one was hurt.
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.