RHIANNON BERG; News Editor; firstname.lastname@example.org
A house fire across the street from Pacific Lutheran University Wednesday night left a charred home, lost family photos, displaced students and unanswered questions.
“I felt the heat on my back,” said Soliga Soliga Jr., a man who has been renting a room in the house for four months. “I didn’t care. I wanted to get out.
He opened his bedroom door and saw flames. He crawled on the floor through heavy smoke and exited the house through the front door, he said.
“I was lucky I wasn’t burned,” he said while staring at a small backpack, the only possession he had with him. “Thank God for guiding me out.”
Soliga said he was sleeping upstairs when he heard someone shouting his name. He said he thought the person was joking because a house fire wasn’t something he expected to happen to him.
In a Sept. 14 Pierce County Fire Prevention Bureau investigation report, Deputy Fire Marshall Dave Dupille wrote the tenant of the house told him she and her friends were burning wood debris in a round metal fire container in the backyard near the back porch. She told him she went upstairs while two other adults were watching the fire, but by the time she came back out, she saw flames and the back porch was on fire.
The report estimated the fire destroyed $120,000 worth of belongings and structures.
Flying embers from a makeshift metal fire pit in the backyard were the cause of the fire, Dupille concluded in the report.
Assistant Chief of the Pierce County Fire Department Pat Donovan said dispatch received a call before 9 p.m on Sept. 14 reporting a house fire at the 500 block of 123 Street South in Parkland.
Donovan said first responders were at the scene within three minutes and reported heavy fire and smoke coming from the second floor of the house.
More than 20 PLU students watched firefighters extinguish the fire from senior Lexi Jason’s front yard.
“I don’t know them that well,” Jason, who had brought out water for her neighbors, said. “No one deserves to have their house burn down.”
Donovan said all four adult occupants of the house, none of whom were PLU students, were uninjured and accounted for.
PLU students who lived in the house next door to the fire carried bedding out of their house and said they were staying somewhere else for the night because of the heavy smoke.
Soliga said he didn’t have that option. He said he didn’t have family or friends who lived nearby and didn’t know where he was going to sleep.
Donovan said he contacted the Red Cross to help find support for the occupants of the destroyed house.
Soliga said he was thankful for his neighbors who had helped him get out of the house, but the father of seven looked heartbroken when he said he thought 30 years of his family photos had burned in the fire.
“It’s a scary thing,” he said. “All you think about is all your important papers that you carry around all your life and now it’s all gone in a minute.”