Fire damages home, trailer in West Hazel Dell

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith



Dwellers jumped out of first-floor windows to escape a fire at a west Hazel Dell house Monday afternoon.

Marissa Colder, 19, was about to wash her car in her driveway a couple of houses over when she saw flames and thick, black smoke coming from 815 N.W. 72nd St. Colder heard a couple of explosions and popping noises. She said her neighbors weld cars frequently, so she asked the neighbors on the east side of the house if they had seen anything.

Those neighbors called 911 and flames started to crawl up a tree at the west side of the house. Branches fell from the tree and landed on a nearby power line. There were no outages reported at the home or the area, but a Clark Public Utilities worker did shut off power to the house.

Megan Taylor, 26, of Vancouver was sleeping in one of the home’s bedrooms before her shift at the Grand Central Fred Meyer. She got her pets and herself out of the house.

“That was the only thing I cared about,” Taylor said.

About six people in the home scattered, neighbors said. They started jumping out of windows at the northeast side of the house and many left the scene.

Neighbors, who asked not to be identified, banged on Jeff Wager’s door to tell him to get out of his house. The flames looked like they might enter Wager’s next-door property to the west.

“There’s always noise coming from over there, so I didn’t think anything of it,” said Wager, 58. He has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years.

Fire District 6 and Vancouver Fire dispatched four engines and a truck at 1:25 p.m. Upon arrival, crews found a trailer at the west side of the house on fire. The fire spread to an overhang and then to the attic, said Fire District 6’s Training Chief Michael Ciraulo. The fire was under control by 1:58 p.m.

The fire seriously damaged the garage, kitchen, dining room and living room, and caused smoke damage throughout the house, Ciraulo said.

County property records indicate the house is owned by Curtis Schaeffer, 78, who is registered to vote at that address. Neighbors say Schaeffer lives in a trailer at Lincoln City, Ore., and his grandson and wife are living in the home.

Based on what neighbors said, firefighters used breathing gear to keep from inhaling any fumes. A neighbor who had been exposed to smoke and fumes was decontaminated by firefighters.

Officials requested the Department of Ecology investigate an unknown petroleum-based product flowing from the garage. Some of the material seeped into the storm sewer.

There was no indication that there was anything hazardous in the air, Ciraulo said.

The neighbors say they are sorry the house caught fire, but are glad to see its occupants go. They’ve allegedly found hypodermic needles in the street near the house and often see people come out of the house to vomit.

“We’ll be able to get rid of this nuisance,” said neighbor Charlie Colder, 54. He said the demographics of the neighborhood changed when Curtis Schaeffer left the home to his grandson, James.

“It was a very nice neighborhood ’til he moved in,” Colder said.

In November 2011, the sheriff’s office was dispatched to the home and arrested James Schaeffer on an outstanding warrant, said Sgt. Chad Rothenberger. Since September 2010, the sheriff’s office has responded to four calls at the residence, which Rothenberger said is not out of the norm.

Four members of the Southwest Washington Chapter of the American Red Cross arrived on scene later to assist those living in the home. There is no indication that anyone was injured. Crews told Megan Taylor she could return to the home a couple of hours after the fire was under control.

At The Columbian’s press time the cause of the fire was unknown and Vancouver Fire Marshal Richard Martin was still investigating the incident.