Groups step up to help after Pasco fire

July 25, 2013 

Beth Lathim said the help provided by the Red Cross in the days since a fire forced her and dozens of others out of the Sacajawea Apartments in downtown Pasco has been “a godsend.”

“I get emotional,” she said Thursday, wiping away tears as she sat on a bed in the emergency shelter at Pasco High School. “I’m thankful for them. I am. Because if it wasn’t for them, none of us would have (a place to stay).”

The relief effort already has been among the biggest ever for the local Red Cross, taxing its financial resources. And officials say more money is needed as the days stretch on.

It doesn’t look like the six-story building with 65 units in downtown Pasco will be re-opening anytime soon. The owner has said she is closing it because it’s unclear how long it will take to repair and bring up the facility to city codes.

Kathye Kilgore, fund development specialist for the Red Cross’ Benton-Franklin chapter, said the Tri-City community has a history of stepping up, and “this is the time to rally and support people who desperately need it.”

The shelter opened within hours of the Saturday night blaze and has been busy ever since. Fifty-four people stayed there the first night. The number dropped to 27 by mid-week, although many more than that are coming in during the day for food and other services.

The Pasco-based Community Action Connections is pitching in to help displaced residents find permanent housing. Other Tri-City nonprofits and businesses also have lent a hand, including Bank of the West, which pledged $3,500 this week for local disaster relief services.

Knights of Columbus provided some hospital beds. PetSmart and Pet Over Population Prevention have helped deal with the pets.

Lathim, 45, was staying with a friend at the apartment building on North Fourth Avenue when the blaze broke out. She and her adult daughter were alerted by pounding on the door, she said.

Smoke was in the hallway.

“I told my daughter to keep going down the stairs and everything, and (was) trying to tell people, ‘It’s OK, relax,’ because if you panic it’s going to make it worse,” Lathim said.

As she and her daughter were crossing into the building’s driveway, windows imploded, she said. Not long after, she was at the shelter.

The fire reportedly was sparked by a candle left burning after a resident fell asleep.

While gathered at the apartment building Thursday, some tenants said they’re upset with the building’s owners.

They felt they haven’t been given enough time to collect belongings they still have inside and there’s a lack of adequate security from looting.

“We shouldn’t have to be worried about what valuables we do have left when we should be focused on getting healed and new housing,” said Lucky Richard, 49.

Reached briefly by phone Thursday, owner Linda Guo of Bellevue said “we are working on” security. She previously said that allowing residents in for more than short periods would be risky to their health.

At the Red Cross shelter Thursday afternoon, about two dozen cots sat on the gym floor. A few kids watched cartoons on a TV in a corner.

Apartment residents talked with shelter volunteers, easily identified by their bright red vests. Volunteers have come from around the state and beyond to help, said Jill Becker of Walla Walla, the shelter manager.

She arrived within a few hours of the fire and estimates she got about three hours of the sleep the first 36 hours. A veteran Red Cross volunteer, Becker said she’s impressed by the Tri-City community’s response.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a shelter where people from the local town just immediately came and said, ‘How can we help?’ ” she said.

It’s unclear how long the shelter will remain open.

Lathim said she thanks God she and her daughter escaped the fire unharmed and there were few injuries. The help that’s come in from the community makes her feel hopeful, she said.

“We’re just trying to, I guess as my mom says, ‘Pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and start over again.’ That’s all we’re trying to do,” Lathim told the Herald. “We take one day at a time.” -- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

HOW TO HELP

The local Red Cross needs financial donations to support the Sacajawea Apartments fire response effort. Donations can be made over the phone at 509-783-6195 or dropped off/mailed to the Red Cross chapter at 7202 W. Deschutes Ave., Kennewick, WA, 99336. Items such as clothing should be taken to partner organizations like the Salvation Army.

“These organizations are equipped to handle and sort these types of donations and the Red Cross will work to connect the disaster victims with these organizations,” said a release.

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