Fire quickly engulfed an old, wood-frame rooming house early Saturday, killing three people and seriously burning another, and a rash of smaller fires was reported across the city.

Fire Chief Larry Dickinson said firefighters were kept busy going from fire to fire as flames broke out in 10 separate places in garbage bins, brush along fence lines and in an apartment building 20 blocks from the destroyed rooming house. Only minor damage was reported in those fires.John Fifer, assistant fire chief in this south-central Washington town of 18,000, said a state fire marshal had been called in to determine whether the fatal fire was linked to the others, which he said were probably arson.

"We are presuming those (others) are all set fires," he said. There have been no arrests, officials said.

The state investigator was on the scene Saturday afternoon, said firefighter Dennis Morris. But he and others said they did not want to be too quick to label the fatal fire as arson before they had ruled out other possible causes.