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Fire at Share House displaces 58 homeless men

Improperly discarded cigarette butt to blame; water damage pauses hot meal program

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith, and
, Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published:
12 Photos
A fire broke out at the Vancouver Share House on Tuesday night, July 30, 2019. Water damage can be seen here as it leaked through the ceiling of the main floor.
A fire broke out at the Vancouver Share House on Tuesday night, July 30, 2019. Water damage can be seen here as it leaked through the ceiling of the main floor. (Zach Wilkinson/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Fifty-eight homeless men were displaced by a small fire late Tuesday night at the men’s shelter in downtown Vancouver.

The fire at Share House, 1115 W. 13th St., was reported at 10:50 p.m. It originated on the top floor in a room shared by two residents, Share Deputy Director Amy Reynolds said. Neither resident was in the room at the time.

Although the fire was extinguished quickly, the resulting water damage was “much more significant,” Reynolds said.

Everyone was evacuated from the building when the fire was reported. Share Orchards Inn and Share Homestead, the nonprofit’s two family shelters, and St. Paul Lutheran Church in downtown Vancouver, sheltered displaced Share House residents overnight Tuesday.

“That’s where people are staying for the time being until the fire marshal approves us to be able to open up again,” Reynolds said.

YOU CAN HELP

Donations can be dropped off between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays at the Share Fromhold Service Center, 2306 N.E. Andresen Road.

  • Pillows
  • Blankets
  • Twin sheet sets
  •  Towels
  • Instant coffee and creamer packets
  • Cocoa packets
  • Granola bars or cereal bars
  • Sliced cheese
  • Bottled water

Vancouver firefighter Eva Scherer said 11 fire trucks and four fire marshals responded to the blaze. The fire department activated a second alarm during the response, she said, primarily because the shelter houses many people.

The first crew arrived within four minutes and extended a water hose to a third-floor room in which a sprinkler already had been activated. The sprinkler system prevented the fire from spreading to other rooms or floors, but water damaged much of that floor, Scherer said.

Firefighters removed a burning mattress and other damaged materials from the room, she said.

It took about 10 minutes to extinguish the blaze, but crews stayed at Share House for nearly two hours to clear the building of water.

Investigators determined the cause of the fire was an improperly discarded cigarette, Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said.

Smoking is prohibited in the building, according to Share House Director Katie Louis, who told the fire marshal’s office the occupants of the room where the fire happened had moved in two days ago.

Improper use or disposal of cigarettes is one of the leading causes of preventable fires in Vancouver, Scarpelli said. She encouraged people to always place cigarette butts in non-combustible containers containing sand or water.

Jessica Lightheart, spokeswoman for Share, said some residents’ belongings got wet, so they laundered their things at the Vancouver Navigation Center.

“I was happier than a clam at high tide that my room wasn’t damaged,” said Richard Mayfield, whose room is down the hall from where the fire occurred. 

He said people began smelling smoke late Tuesday night. After discovering the fire, everyone started knocking on people’s doors, telling them to evacuate. Mayfield said a man in the neighboring room uses a walker, so he carried him downstairs and outside while another person grabbed the walker.

The 55-year-old worked in nursing homes for years and knows the importance of having an evacuation plan. Mayfield said residents are trained on this plan and have a copy posted in their rooms.

“It went well considering,” Mayfield said. “They made sure we all had places to stay.”

He ended up at Share Orchards Inn and went to bed around 1:30 a.m. but returned Wednesday to help clean up and eat lunch.

The damage to the shelter shuttered Share’s hot meal program, which operates out of the basement. The kitchen is fully operational, but because the fire system cannot be used, the nonprofit will until further notice serve brown bag meals and continental breakfasts for those who are homeless or low-income. On Wednesday, the program prepared 100 turkey and tuna salad sandwiches. Residents at Lincoln Place, an apartment complex for chronically homeless people across the street, often take advantage of the hot meals program.

In summer 2018, the kitchen and dining room at Share House were remodeled. The hot meals program prepares nearly 92,000 meals annually.

The former Share House, which was built in the late 1800s, was destroyed by arson in 1996 and rebuilt in 1999. Share House is the only shelter for single men in Clark County that is open every day.

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