Residents return briefly to burned Pasco apartments

By the Tri-City HeraldJuly 21, 2013 

Residents of a burned Pasco apartment complex were allowed back in briefly Sunday, but it is uncertain when they will be able to return to the Sacajawea Apartments for good.

Building manager Billie Vinson said Sunday that she would assume residents will be allowed back inside the building at some point, but added "I cannot say 100 percent."

"The city has not been here, nor has the insurance company," she said.

Four people were taken to the hospital for injuries or smoke inhalation after the fire broke out in the 65-unit building Saturday evening at 507 N. Fourth St., according to a Pasco Fire Department news release.

Vinson said three of the units were "pretty much destroyed."

Fire officials said the fire probably started in a second story apartment, leading to moderate fire, smoke and water damage on the second and third floors. They said the cause of the fire appears to be unintentional, but remains under investigation.

But Pamela Jarrell, who lives on the second floor of the building., said that about 9 p.m. she fell asleep with a candle "burning next to the bed and I thought it was fine. It was on the desk and I put a few incense inside that were burning, a few tiny ones, and I fell asleep."

She said she's not sure what happened next but said, "I woke up and it was all aflame, from the floor to the wall in the corner and I just started yelling, 'Fire!' "

She said she grabbed her cat Gracie and ran out. She helped others and said she "prayed everybody would be OK."

Fifth-floor resident Kathleen Cullen returned to the building Sunday to get some of her belongings. She said residents were allowed inside for 10 minutes. They had to walk through dark hallways in the building that is without electricity.

"The smoke is really bad," she said. "Everything smells like plastic."

Forty-five firefighters responded to the fire, officials said. Along with the Pasco Fire Department, crews from Kennewick, Richland, Franklin County, Benton County and Walla Walla County assisted.

Fire officials said the first unit arrived less than three minutes after the fire alarm went off at 9:13 p.m. They said the fire was under control at 10:10 p.m. Saturday.

But fourth floor resident Joe Winn, 47, said that once they arrived, it took around 20 minutes before firefighters started using the water hose on the building. He said they concentrated on finding people inside the building instead.

Winn went upstairs to his apartment to find his sister, Katherine Winn, 48 and their 2-year-old Siamese cat, Steiglitz.

"I couldn't get the cat, but I got my sister," he said.

Joe Winn said the cat died of smoke inhalation. He said the building lacked emergency lights and fire alarms.

Cullen said she was able to stay with a friend, but many in the building, located across from Lourdes Medical Center, weren't so fortunate.

They stayed in a shelter set up by the American Red Cross at Pasco High School's gymnasium.

"They have us on cots," said Katherine Winn, 48. "They are taking care of us."

She expects to stay in the shelter a week, but doesn't know if they will be able to return home after that.

Joe Winn said about 25 people are staying in the shelter.

The complex largely is made up of low-income residents, Cullen, 50, said. She is part of the Housing and Essential Needs program with the Community Action Committee, which pays residents' rent for a period of time.

Cullen said she had been homeless, but is in the process of getting a job.

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