Neighbors lend hands when garage burns

Two Persian cats die in blaze

By Craig Brown, Columbian Managing Editor



Two large Persian cats died, but a mother cat and her kitten were saved, in a Sunday afternoon fire in the Sunnyside neighborhood north of Vancouver.

Firefighters credit two neighbors for quickly reporting the fire and checking to see if anyone needed help. However, no one was at home when the fire broke out about 3:30 p.m.

The first alarm was raised by Wendy Homola, who was taking photos in the backyard of her home. Through the large trees she saw her neighbor’s house was on fire.

She alerted her husband, Matt, who grabbed his cellphone and started down the street, dialing 911 on the way.

Meanwhile another neighbor, Jim Stern, heard what he thought sounded like a shot, spotted the smoke, and also headed to help.

The men arrived at the same time at 7907 N.E. 110th St., at the end of a forested gravel road. They saw smoke and flames pouring from a two-story garage attached to a doublewide manufactured home.

Not sure if anyone was home, Stern grabbed a garden hose and tried to knock down the flames. Meanwhile Homola kicked in the door and shouted to see if anyone was inside.

“It was the neighbors trying to take care of each other,” said Joe Spatz, a spokesman for the Vancouver Fire Department.

The house, owned by Kelly and Laura Kofoed, was already filled with smoke from about three feet above the floor, Spatz said.

Five minutes after Homola called the fire department, the first engine arrived to find a large, hot fire emitting a header of dark smoke visible for miles. The heat had warped the metal garage door at the top, allowing flames 25 to 30 feet high to lick out of the garage and up the siding on the front wall. The heat broke the front windows on the floor above the garage, and the fire spread inside.

The nearest fire hydrant was several blocks away, making access to water difficult. Firefighters first used water from the engine’s tank, then as more units arrived set up a long relay pumping operation down the street to the Kofoeds’ home.

Though the Kofoeds were away, four of their Persian cats were home. One, named Aku, was rescued by firefighters. Heather Gehring, a firefighter with Clark County Fire District 6, used a special pet resuscitator in a vain attempt to revive Aku. A second cat was later found dead in the rooms above the garage, but a cat and her kitten were rescued from the main floor of the manufactured home, Spatz said.

The damage to the garage and the rooms above it was extensive, including the complete loss of a 2010 Toyota Prius and a 2003 Toyota Corolla. The manufactured home suffered smoke damage throughout and some fire damage to a bedroom, which was connected to the upstairs of the garage via a stairway.

A fire marshal investigated but was unable to determine how the fire started. Damage was estimated at $70,000 to the structure and $75,000 to the contents, including the automobiles.

Four fire engines, including two from Fire District 6, and a ladder truck, along with 19 firefighters, were on the scene. Clark County Fire & Rescue provided a tanker truck and another unit.

Craig Brown: 360-735-4514;