An early morning fire at a West Richland home claimed the life of a young mother of three and sent her husband to the hospital.
Sandy St. George, 26, was found dead inside the home at 701 S. 45th Ave., said West Richland Police Chief Brian McElroy.
Thomas St. George, 27, was found outside struggling to breathe and was taken to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland. He was said to be in stable condition.
The couple's children, ranging in age from 1 to 4, were not home at the time, a friend said Friday morning.
Never miss a local story.
"Their three kids, by the grace of God, were at my house last night," said Chris Avery, who works for Thomas St. George and attends Temple Baptist Church with the family.
St. George Well Drilling and Pump Installation operated out of a shop adjacent to the family home.
The fire was reported around 5:30 a.m. Friday, and when the first crews arrived, the shop was engulfed in flames and the home was about 75 percent involved, said Benton Fire District 4 Interim Chief Bill Cherwien.
A neighbor said he was awakened by a "big boom." Another nearby resident said he heard an explosion around 5:45 a.m. and saw 60-foot flames coming from the shop.
Trees in front of the shop were scorched.
Firefighters from Benton fire districts 1 and 2, and the Richland and Hanford fire departments helped battle the blaze. West Richland police also were at the scene investigating the fire, along with officials from the Benton County Coroner's Office.
Benton County sheriff's deputies and Richland police also were part of the initial response. Traffic was diverted around 45th and 46th avenues and Everett Street because of the fire rigs and equipment.
Investigators from the Kennewick and Richland fire departments are assisting West Richland police, McElory said. The cause of the blaze was unknown.
Avery said he learned about the fire in a call from his pastor, then went to the hospital to check on Thomas St. George.
Avery's daughter babysits for the St. George family. They originally wanted her to watch the kids at their own home Thursday night, but Avery said he had them bring the kids to his house instead.
St. George said his dog, Brownie, woke him up and he was able to escape from the back door, Avery said.
About three hours later, a firefighter was spotted carrying Brownie away from the home. The dog, whose paws were black from the soot, kept trying to go back inside the house.
Firefighters put a makeshift leash around Brownie's neck and kept her tied up. Avery, who drew a sketch showing the layout of the shop and house for investigators, took Brownie home with him when he left.
Fire crews only were able to make a defensive attack on the blaze, which lit up the early morning sky above West Richland with an orange glow. That's because the shop was full of gasoline, oils, paint thinners, primers, welding tools and propane tanks, along with lots of clutter, Cherwien said.
"Those were our really, really big battles," he said, referring to efforts to put out the fire from those shop materials.
Another challenge Cherwien had to deal with was fatigue for his on-duty crew and volunteers, who earlier had battled a fire at Royal Crest Mobile Manor. That blaze, which started around 5 p.m., destroyed one mobile home and spread to a second.
Richland fire crews also helped at that incident.
"We had two labor-intensive structure fires within 12 hours," Cherwien said.
West Richland's crew had returned to the station around 8:30 p.m. and had about two hours of work to get the trucks back together, Cherwien said.
Around 9:30 p.m., they were called to Richland to help at a possible fire, which fortunately turned out to be a nonevent, he said.
"We spent 31/2 hours on the (mobile home fire) call, and when that came in a lot of our volunteers were still at work," Cherwien said. "This morning when this came in, unfortunately most of our volunteers were getting up to go to work... The crew working yesterday is the same crew on this call today."
Sandy St. George was involved in the ECHO home school program. A special end-of-year drama production that had been set for Friday night was canceled, in part because of her death.
An autopsy is being scheduled for Monday, Coroner John Hansens said.
Paula Horton: 582-1556; email@example.com