UPDATE: Arson suspected in fire that destroyed Sifton family's home

Fire marshal and sheriff's investigators on the case

By Bob Albrecht and John Branton

Published:

Updated: May 13, 2011, 8:25 PM

 
photoAfter the smoke clears, firefighters assess the damage to a Sifton home after a Friday morning fire.

(/The Columbian)

photoAs smoke continues to pour from the home, firefighters began the task of saving belongings and overhauling the garage.

(/The Columbian)

photoThis Sifton house was fully involved in flames when firefighters arrived Friday morning. They were forced to battle it from the exterior.

(/The Columbian)

A Friday the 13th fire ripped through a Sifton neighborhood home, forcing firefighters to battle from the outside a blaze already well on its way to destroying the single-story structure by the time they arrived.

The home was a total loss and the fire is being investigated as an arson, Clark County Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway said Friday evening.

Deputy Fire Marshal Curtis Eavenson is the lead investigator and is working the case with deputies with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Officials had reported no arrest in the case Friday evening.

Vancouver firefighters summoned to 8518 N.E. 129th Ave. at 9:06 a.m., could see a header of smoke long before they got there.

The house, a ranch-style wood-frame built in 1972, is home to Patricia Smith and her three children, said Capt. Scott Willis, a Vancouver Fire Department spokesman.

It was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived, but the occupants had safely escaped. Willis said visible flames could be seen through the doors and windows.

Firefighters from four companies used their large 2 1/2 inch hoses to knock down the flames from the exterior, then moved in to extinguish flames in the attic and garage.

“It makes it difficult,” Willis said of having to fight from a defensive posture, meaning from outside only since the blaze was too dangerous for firefighters to pull their hoses inside the home.

At 9:45 a.m. the walls and roof were still standing, but the structural integrity of the house was questionable. Firefighters retreated from the home for their safety.

Later, as the danger abated, they began hauling the family’s clothing and other belongings from the burned home. Clothes, suitcases and plastic containers covered the driveway of the single-family dwelling.

The fire attracted a lot of traffic, triggering the temporary closure of Northeast 85th Street. A small throng of onlookers at times had little to see. When firefighters in the rear of the house cranked up their hoses, smoke enveloped the entire block, obscuring the home behind a thick cloud.

The Vancouver Fire Department was the primary agency on the fire, and was assisted by Fire District 3, which protects the Hockinson area near Battle Ground.

At about 10:30 a.m. the fire was under control.

The garage door had been cut through and ripped off, as were sections of the walls in the front and back of the house. Firefighters remained on scene several hours longer watching over hot spots.

About 20 firefighters responded to the fire, so many in fact the department did not initially have enough to man a rehabilitation bus, which is used to bring food, drinks and medical equipment to monitor firefighters’ heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs.

The rehab bus arrived about an an hour after the first units arrived.

The fire was part of a busy morning for Vancouver firefighters.

The first engine company arrived from the Sifton station after first clearing the scene of a head-on collision at the intersection of Northeast 32nd Circle and 138th Avenue, in the Parkside neighborhood.

They were called out of their normal coverage area to provide a hydraulic tool that was used to free a woman trapped in one of the vehicles.

“They had to leave their Jaws of Life on scene with that other engine,” said Willis, explaining the wreck slowed the crew’s response to the fire.

Friday night, Capt. Willis said the home was destroyed and is under investigation as an arson.

The exact cause of the fire had not been determined Friday night and it’s expected to take some time, Willis said.

Officials declined to reveal more details, saying it’s an open investigation.

Smith was the one who called 911 but said she did not know how the fire started. She declined to be interviewed.

At one point, she looked at a nearby firefighter and said, simply, “Thanks.”

His response: “You’re welcome. It’s what we do.”

The American Red Cross offered its assistance to the family, but the Smiths declined, saying they have family and friends they can stay with for the time being, Willis said.