Kennewick family recovers after house fire (w/ gallery)

KENNEWICK -- Lynn Ramos barely could watch Wednesday as her husband tore into what was left of their son's charred bedroom with the steel claw of an excavator.

The contractors hired to raze the fire-destroyed family home had asked Donald Ramos if he wanted to take the first swing. Ramos looked as though he was enjoying himself at the controls -- as much as a man can enjoy tearing down his own house after living in it only five months.

His wife didn't seem to be enjoying the demolition at all.

"It's pretty nauseating to hear these sounds," Lynn said quietly -- almost too quietly to be heard over the sounds of splintering wood.

The Ramos family escaped from their burning Kennewick home with just the bare necessities almost a month ago.

On Wednesday, they came back to the house to sift through the rubble one last time before the charred hulk was leveled.

In the early morning hours of Nov. 29, the couple were jolted awake by the screech of a smoke alarm. Even hearing that terrifying sound, they didn't immediately realize the danger they were in.

"You don't think your house is burning down," Lynn said. "You just think it's a candle."

Then they smelled smoke.

Donald moved down the hallway from where the smoke was coming. He turned the handle on the door to the attached garage, and the door flew out of his hand -- sucked in by the blaze behind it.

Lynn, who was right behind him, was knocked off her feet by the rushing air.

She scrambled up to collect their children -- Michaela, 3 months, and Donald Jr., 18 months -- and ran out the front door, right into the arms of Patty Williamson, who lives across the street.

Meanwhile, her husband thought he still could save the house and tried to get a hose hooked up in the yard. It was difficult in the dark and the cold, especially because he hadn't taken the time to get dressed after jumping out of bed.

"I was playing naked fireman for a second," he said.

He quickly realized his efforts were futile, threw on jeans and a T-shirt, grabbed his wallet and joined his wife across the street.

It only took a few minutes for the house to be engulfed in flames. Firefighters saved part of the house from destruction, but smoke coated all of the family's belongings with a toxic layer.

They would have to start over.

The Ramoses have good insurance coverage, so their long-term livelihood is secure. But that doesn't replace the many mementos the house held.

Lynn lost two close family members in the past few years -- her mother died three years ago, her brother in 2008. Pieces she inherited from them were lost.

"The couch or the TV -- that's just material," she said. "But it's the family stuff, the stuff you can't get back ... "

Her voice choked and she wiped at her eyes.

"After my mom's and my brother's deaths, this has to be No. 3," she said. "I can't handle any more."

But as hard as these past few years have been for her, she said a lot of good also happened in that time.

"We've also gotten married (in 2007) and had our kids," she said.

Even disaster No. 3 came with a bright side -- an outpouring of support from old friends, family and people they have never met.

Total strangers have left things on the stoop of the rental house where they now live, Lynn said.

Friends and churches from as far as Seattle -- alerted by local acquaintances through social media -- have sent clothes and household items.

Co-workers have taken turns bringing dinners.

And this weekend, Donald, Lynn, Junior and Michaela will have family over for Christmas.

They salvaged a set of champagne flutes from the house, which they will use to serve their customary mimosas. They always play host for Christmas and won't make an exception this year.

"Christmas is still on," Lynn said. "They're coming to our rental, and we'll host like everything's normal."

Just then, another section of the roof collapsed under the excavator's blows. The look on Lynn's face said things were far from normal.

"Going through the everyday stuff is just horrific," she said.