Eight people injured, 150 evacuated in apartment fire
Originally published March 15, 2010 at 8:23 p.m., updated March 16, 2010 at 10:19 a.m.
Breakfast served after a night at a shelter
By Dee Riggs
World staff writer
At 86, Willie Carpenter wasn’t keen on sleeping on a cot at a shelter set up by the Red Cross.
“Well, it’s a place to be,” he said, as he and eight other evacuees from the Garden Terrace retirement apartments ate breakfast this morning in a large meeting room at Wenatchee’s Seventh-day Adventist Church. Carpenter’s fourth floor apartment had too much smoke and water damage for him to return home after the fire Monday night.
Mariah Thornock, administrator at the Apple Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, said this morning that 45 residents could not go back into their apartments last night. Nine were placed at a shelter, five at local hotels and the rest went home with family or friends.
The remaining residents were allowed to return to their apartments about 11 p.m. last night, she said.
Carpenter said firefighters led him safely out of his apartment and he was bused to the shelter at the church at Fifth Street and Western Avenue. He brought his 15-year-old cat, Gizmo, with him but someone from the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society took the cat until Carpenter can get back inside his apartment.
He was hoping for a quick return to his apartment and a reunion with Gizmo.
“It can’t live without me,” he said.
Cots also weren’t the best place for Ron Cockrum, 62, who was sitting in a wheelchair at the breakfast table. “I couldn’t hardly get up off the cot; I needed help,” he said.
Cockrum said a firefighter also helped him out of his fourth-floor apartment, which suffered smoke and water damage. Somewhere along the way, Cockrum got “a big wiff of smoke” and ended up getting checked out at a local hospital.
Jason Berbeck didn’t mind the cots.
“I slept and I had dreams so I’m sure I slept well,” said the fifth-floor evacuee. He remembers getting out of the complex on his own, with his coat and a backpack, but had to rely on firefighters to go back into his apartment later for his medication.
Serving breakfast were six volunteers with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief organization. Paul Henry, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Leavenworth and chaplain for the Wenatchee volunteer group, said volunteers consider their work a ministry and “see it as a service to the community.”
The Salvation Army helped about five residents with housing, said Linda Davis, a Southern Baptist volunteer.
The Red Cross shelter will remain open indefinitely, Thornock said, and the Red Cross will continue to work with displaced residents, along with state aging services organizations, to help them find suitable accommodations.
“There are some health issues involved here,” she said of the elderly community. “Even though their apartment may not have burned down, it might not be livable for them for a while. We want to make sure we’re placing people in the right place; not just any apartment will work.”
Firefighters will work with Garden Terrace’s insurance company to ventilate the top two floors today, said Wenatchee Fire Chief Stan Smoke. They will focus on the fourth floor, where there was water damage, so more residents can get back in as soon as possible.
WENATCHEE — At least eight people were taken to area hospitals and about 150 people were evacuated from their apartments after a Monday evening fire at Garden Terrace in Wenatchee. About 100 people were later able to return to their apartments.
One woman was taken to Central Washington Hospital with second-degree burns and smoke inhalation after the fire broke out in her fourth-floor apartment just after 6 p.m. This morning Wenatchee Fire Chief Stan Smoke said the woman, who is blind, was transported to Harborview Medical Center. Her name and condition were not available.
Seven other people were taken to Central Washington Hospital and Wenatchee Valley Hospital for smoke inhalation. Smoke said this morning that he had not heard of anyone still in acute distress, other than the woman at Harborview.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, he said.
Many of the elderly and disabled residents of Garden Terrace and neighboring Garden Terrace West, located at the corner of Emerson and Fifth streets, were eating dinner in the ground-level dining area when the fire alarm sounded at 6:06 p.m.
“We didn’t think it was real,” said resident Ginger Zufall, 59. “But then someone started yelling ‘It’s real. It’s a real fire.’”
Staff then began quickly getting people out of the building.
When firefighters arrived, flames were shooting out of the window of apartment 404, where the fire started, Smoke said. A second alarm was quickly called, summoning firefighters from as far away as Leavenworth and Orondo.
The blaze was knocked down, and firefighters were able to get the apartment’s resident out.
Smoke filled the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of Garden Terrace, where many residents were still in their apartments. Firefighters told people to stay home until some of the smoke cleared.
Diane Hansen stood outside the apartment talking on a cell phone to her 92-year-old father, Fabian Hansen, who was told to stay in his room on the fourth floor. “The hallway is too full of smoke,” she said. “They told him he was better off in his room.”
“He’s scared,” she said, looking up at her father, who was standing at his window. “He went into his bedroom and shut the door because his front room is too smoky.”
About 15 minutes later, firefighters helped her father out of the building.
“Boy, it was really smoky,” he said. “I had a terrible time breathing before I got down the stairs.”
Hansen said he never heard the building’s fire alarm sound, but the smoke detector in his apartment kitchen went off. He opened his door to leave, but the hallway was too smoky. “I couldn’t see across the hall,” he said. So he went back inside and called his daughter, who lives a couple miles away.
“I opened the window and put my head out so I could breath,” he said.
Smoke said when the hallway started to clear out a bit, firefighters went apartment to apartment to help people out.
“Some folks were having respiratory problems because of the smoke,” he said.
Wenatchee Valley Medical Center sent an external triage team of doctors and nurses to evaluate residents on the lawn outside the apartment building. They checked blood pressure, administered oxygen and determined which residents should go to hospitals.
Clinic staff had done extensive training on the triage operation, but this was the first time they have done it in a real emergency, nurses at the scene said.
Garden Terrace resident Joann Golden could be seen standing at her sixth-floor window with a towel over her face.
“It really burned my throat to breath in there,” she said, gulping in the fresh air once she got outside.
Earlier, she said, she had tried to get out, but the smoke in the hallway was too thick. So she put a wet towel under her door, and then wet another towel to breath into because her apartment was filling with smoke.
She said she waited for firefighters to come, but when they didn’t, the 79-year-old decided to go out alone. She held the wet towel to her face to walk down her hallway, but said the air was clearer in the stair wells.
People brought blankets and bottled water to residents who sat in chairs, wheelchairs or on a rock wall outside the apartment building. Some residents were wearing shorts in the chilly air, and many were wearing slippers.
Michelle McNiel: 664-7152
MORE LIKE THIS
Sunday, May 19
Wenatchee Women's Show
Performing Arts Center of Wenatchee, 1 p.m.
Sunday, May 19
Local Author H.S. Clark is Signing His New Thriller at Hastings in Wenatchee
Hastings Entertainment, 315 9th St., Wenatchee, WA, 1 p.m.
Monday, May 20
Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking - Toastmasters Meeting
First United Methodist Church, 5:30 p.m.
Monday, May 20
Wenatchee Fire FC Tryouts
Sunnyslope Elementary School, 5:30 p.m.