Two people and their pets escaped via second-floor balconies as a fast-moving fire destroyed their adjoining duplexes Friday morning.
The fire was reported at 9:16 a.m. at 3609, 3611, 3615 and 3619 Olive St., in Vancouver’s Lincoln neighborhood.
Tenant Jason Underhill, 22, was getting ready for work when he smelled smoke. He went onto the balcony and saw that flames were licking up the vinyl siding of his duplex as high as the rain gutter. He quickly went back inside and located one of two pet cats, threw it off the balcony, and then leaped to safety before calling 911.
It all happened so fast he was unable to grab a shirt or shoes, he said. The fate of the other cat is unknown.
Meanwhile, a neighbor in the adjoining duplex discovered the fire. She heard windows exploding and the sound of the fire. She immediately phoned her fiance, Jose Nava, 25, who had left earlier that morning. Nava said she told him she was trapped, but then was able to grab their dog, a border collie mix named Meech, and get onto their balcony.
Another tenant, Josh Durrett, 28, awoke to the smell of smoke and heard the neighbor woman screaming. He grabbed his Chihuahua, Savage, and evacuated.
Once outside, he saw the woman on her balcony. Flames were burning between the duplexes, had entered her living room and were burning out the sliding glass door toward her as she stood on the balcony, he said.
He stood on the roof of a low shed, reached up to her balcony and told the woman to climb onto his shoulders. She dropped Meech into the arms of Underhill, then used Durrett as a human ladder to reach safety.
“It was very close,” Durrett said. “She could have died.”
Nava said he didn’t want to give his fiancee’s name without her permission, and she was too distraught to be interviewed.
“The most important thing is we are OK,” he said. “We’re just going to build from here. I don’t want to focus on the negativity. We’re going to move forward.”
About the time the woman was rescued, the first firefighters began arriving. A large plume of black smoke was visible for miles, and the first arriving firefighters immediately called for a second alarm. That brought a dozen units, including both of the city’s ladder trucks, to the scene. Clark County Fire District 6 contributed three engines, and Clark County Fire and Rescue stationed units from north Clark County to central Vancouver to make sure the city wasn’t stripped of emergency services.
The fire burned freely on a warm morning with low humidity. Flames shot through the roof of at least one of the 40-year-old duplexes, which are of wood-frame construction with vinyl siding. They are two stories, with a drive-in basement, and sit close together along a narrow street above the BNSF West Vancouver rail yard.
The fire was declared under control about 10:20 a.m. but firefighters remained on scene for several hours to conduct mop-up operations. Joe Spatz of the Vancouver Fire Department said 15 apparatus and 40 firefighters were on scene.
No one was injured, but eight people and four pets were displaced. The American Red Cross was called to assist them.
The cause of the fire, which witnesses indicated may have started between the duplexes, is under investigation.
County property records show the duplexes, although similar in appearance, have different Vancouver owners.
This was the second two-alarm fire in Vancouver this week. Four people were injured and 16 units were damaged in a fire Wednesday night at Autumn Chase apartments in east Vancouver. The cause of that fire, which a witness said started in a kitchen, is also under investigation.