Four families in the process of trying to get their lives back on track have a new loss to deal with after a fire broke out in their Kennewick four-plex early Monday.
The families narrowly escaped their apartments as flames that began outside started spreading inside two units in the building at 6702 W. First Ave., said Kennewick Fire Marshal Mark Yaden.
The four-plex is owned by Domestic Violence Services of Benton and Franklin Counties and is used as transitional housing for clients.
Two units were occupied by domestic violence victims and their children, while two units were being used by Elijah Family Homes. Elijah Family Homes provides transitional housing for people recovering from drug addiction.
"Fortunately, no injuries occurred -- at least no physical injuries," said Dan Aspiri, executive director of Domestic Violence Services of Benton and Franklin Counties. "This is very traumatizing to the families. If you think of just going through a fire, that's traumatizing. But having come to this place and really beginning to get your life back together and to have this happen ..."
Aspiri said one boy was standing outside watching the fire and was very upset that his personal items, including new school clothes and a special pair of tennis shoes that the family had saved for, were gone.
One teenager lost his iPod in the fire. One of the mothers had gone back to college and with just a couple of weeks left before the end of the quarter, now has lost all her supplies and textbooks, he said.
School starts today for Kennewick students, and all the kids lost their school supplies.
Aspiri said the family living in the second-floor unit that suffered the worst damage had written a story earlier this year about how they were finally able to have a Christmas together for the first time last year because they had a home.
"Now they've lost that," he said. "Now that's gone again."
A resident in a second-floor apartment discovered the blaze at 2:14 a.m. after she heard a smoke alarm sounding outside in an exit hallway, Yaden told the Herald.
The woman tried to put out the fire on her neighbor's deck, but quickly realized she wouldn't be able to get it out and started banging on doors to wake up her neighbors.
"The people on the second floor unit narrowly escaped," Yaden said. "The family of three ... got out probably about the time it would have been enough to break the slider window and get into the building."
The fire was burning on the back of a first-floor deck and extended to the balcony above it. The flames also were beginning to spread to the exit area and "any second that would have been blocked," Yaden said.
In two of the units, the second exit -- out through the sliding doors -- already were blocked and that would have left the window as the only way out, he said.
"If that smoke detector hadn't been there, it would have been a pretty bad situation," he said.
The cause of the blaze remains under investigation. Fire officials are asking anybody who was in the area before the blaze started to call the Fire Marshal's Office at 582-1303 if they saw anyone in the area.
What they know right now is that the fire appeared to have started outside, burning the deck of the first floor unit and the balcony right above it, Yaden said.
The flames then went through the sliding glass doors and spread through the two units, with the second-floor unit getting the worst damage, he said.
It took firefighters about 20 minutes to get the blaze under control and another hour to check for hot spots in the attic and other areas of the building.
Crews from Benton Fire District 1 and Richland and Pasco fire departments were called to help Kennewick crews at the fire or to cover other calls in the city.
Volunteers with the Benton-Franklin Chapter of the American Red Cross helped the families early Monday and provided a hotel room for one family, Aspiri said. Though two units escaped fire damage, all four units are uninhabitable because of smoke damage, he said. Short-term housing arrangements are being made for the families.
An early estimate of damage is about $230,000 for the building and contents.
All four units were occupied by families with children, from babies to teens, Aspiri said. Domestic Violence Services provides transitional housing to victims of domestic violence for up to two years, he said.
"These are families who have had to leave a domestic violence situation and totally start anew," Aspiri said. "They've been in this housing and are really beginning to bring their lives together and start it over. Now, with the fire, they're having to start all over again."
Aspiri said he is hoping the community can help out in anyway they can. Clothes, school supplies, personal care items and more are needed.
"We'll accept any donations that will be useful and helpful for these families," he said. "Probably the greatest help will be cash or gift cards, that would probably be the best way, the easiest way. But, we will absolutely accept all donations."
Domestic Violence Services is a nonprofit organization, so receipts for tax deductions can be provided.
Donations can be dropped off at Domestic Violence Services, at 3311 W. Clearwater Ave., Suite C140. Anyone with questions can call 735-1295.
-- Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org