Off Beat: Local pets, fires they cause go national in wire-service story

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

Published:

 

What do cat urine and hungry dogs have in common?

They can start fires.

Two Vancouver incidents were part of a national Associated Press story on the fire danger posed by pets. Vancouver Fire Department Capt. Dave James was featured in the recent story, in which he shared details on two of the more unusual fires in his 30-year career.

In February, a dog is believed to have started a fire that destroyed a house in the Sunnyside neighborhood. James said a family had left the dog -- and some food on the kitchen stove -- alone. Investigators said they believe the dog smelled the food and jumped on the stove to get it, turning on the burner in the process. Items on the range eventually caught fire, he said.

When firefighters arrived, flames and smoke were billowing from the back of the single-story ranch-style house. The dog did not survive, and the rental home was a total loss.

It's not uncommon for items left on a stove top to catch fire, James said. But this is the only local case he could recall in which a pet might have started the fire. He added that it's not a good idea to leave items on top of the stove.

Quite a shock

James also recalled a strange, pet-caused fire from about 15 years ago. Someone called 911 to report smelling smoke in an apartment. Firefighters arrived and found a wall outlet with urine in it.

James said it appeared that a cat was looking out a window and just let it go, spraying a wall. The urine trickled down the wall and into the outlet, scorching the outlet and giving the cat a shock, he said.

"I've never heard of anything like that happening before," James said earlier this week.

And what about the smell?

"The house smelled like burnt urine," he said.We also reported in 2006 about a dog with a fondness for doughnuts was blamed for a fire at a Ridgefield-area house.When the owners left, "they had left doughnuts on the stove, and the dog jumped up onto the stove to get the doughnuts and flipped on the burner," a Fire District 11 official said. "The burner set the box on fire, and the fire spread from the kitchen into the attic."

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.