When Robert Harvill's Richland garage caught fire as he worked on his 2000 Harley-Davidson Sportster, his neighbor had to pull him to safety.
But that didn't stop him from defying Kennewick firefighters and going back in for his dog Harley and cat Poot Poot. Harvill, 50, spent five days in the hospital for smoke inhalation as a result.
After the May 7, 2009, fire, Harvill changed his riding name from "Bite Me" to "Torch," reflecting his changed outlook on life.
Property fires tend to do that -- change lives.
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Fire victims are "never the same, but they can get back on track," said Chaplain Bill Lotz, 52, a former volunteer firefighter who works with Mid-Columbia fire departments through The Chaplaincy. "It's a new normal with that loss that's always there."
The trauma of the fire steered Harvill into new territory, while a family in Pasco, who suffered loss in a fire, wanted nothing more than to restore what was lost.
Harvill is president of the Columbia Basin Chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA), and the vice president of the Washington chapter. BACA aims "to empower children to not feel afraid of the world in which they live," according to its mission statement.
Although he had been on a BACA ride before the fire, he really poured himself into the organization after, helping to found the local chapter in 2010.
"I really needed something in my life," Harvill said. "My past is kind of questionable, but I can live right from this point forward and try to help people."
A string of 23 felony convictions from 1978 to 2000 and a history of drug and alcohol abuse led him to Alcoholics Anonymous when he got out of prison in 2003. Friends from AA helped him get back on his feet, providing clothes and couches, but a different organization kickstarted his new life, he said.
Harvill is trying to help himself, too, working to quit cigarettes after an October 2011 heart attack almost killed him. That was just the latest in an eight-year span of bad luck in odd-numbered years.
Two bad motorcycle wrecks in 2005 and 2007 started the trend that led him to joke, "In 2013 ... I am just going to spend the whole year inside my house."
For now, he's outside, working on his 1997 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic in the open air because there isn't a garage at the home he shares with his wife, Jennifer Reinheimer, and kids Allen, 13, and Aimee, 11.
"We call them geezer gliders," he said, referring to the more comfortable ride and amenities, such as a stereo and cruise control.
Adorning the flat black primer are the white handprints of abused children he's met through BACA.
"I see the crap they go through and I can't really feel sorry about myself," he said of those kids. "It gives me a purpose."
Beginning again in Pasco
For Ted Wenham and Jana Peterson, both 62, recovering from a fire meant getting their lives back to normal after an electrical problem destroyed their barn and killed four horses on March 14, 2010.
The couple have run Columbia Stallion Station in Pasco for about 15 years.
Insurance paid for a new barn, which was completed in January 2011, but Wenham credits "a great outpouring from the public" for helping them care for the 20 horses that survived the blaze.
Friends brought water until their pump was fixed, veterinarians donated medical supplies for foals, others helped replace all the tools, saddles and harnesses, and continuous support kept their horses fed.
"We'd pull up and there would be a half a dozen bales of hay there," Wenham said. "We didn't even know who it came from."
And while no amount of donations could replace the lost horses -- twin foals Junior and Bailey were born a few weeks later, unlikely offspring sired by Passum on Deck, one of the four killed in the fire.
Trainer Tony Jackson, 42, who co-owned Passum on Deck with Jack Rainwater, 36, both of Pasco, said it's extremely rare for twins to make it full-term.
Junior and Bailey were so small that Jackson had to buy the largest dog blankets to keep them warm, but today mom and twins all are healthy and thriving.
Now almost 2 years old, the twins are almost done being babied and ready for training, while their mother Splendor is retired at 26, enjoying "just being a horse," said Jackson.
"It's taken a long time to heal from (the fire)," Peterson said. "To lose the two show geldings was hard. To lose the two colts was devastating."
"We couldn't imagine that people would come out of the woodwork like they did," Wenham said.
"They were just right there," Peterson said. "It's like the horse people just showed up."
And it's that helpful initiative that Lotz said is crucial to propping fire victims back up. He suggests concrete offers instead of telling victims to call if they need anything.
"They really have no idea what they need at that point," he said.
Help can be as simple as providing nails and plywood to patch up a charred home, lending a car if their keys are buried in rubble or supplying food and clothing.
"Even though it's nice to know that insurance is there to cover the loss, it doesn't replace that human touch," he said.
-- Kai-Huei Yau: 585-7205; email@example.com