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Fire displaces JBLM families

Clarkdale housing community comes to aid of three families displaced after two fires destroy their homes

Northwest Guardian

Published: 12:45PM June 20th, 2013
Fire displaces JBLM families

Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian

The fire that consumed this duplex June 9 in the Clarkdale housing area on JBLM Lewis Main left two families homeless.

Two residential fires in the span of seven days on Joint Base Lewis-McChord have displaced three families, but have also brought those living in the Clarkdale housing community closer together.

Several JBLM agencies confirmed there were no injuries reported in either fire, although neighbors say one of the families lost two household pets.

The first fire was reported around 2:30 a.m. June 9. It consumed a duplex at 2478 Mann Ave. and melted the vinyl siding off the side of the duplex next door. One car inside a carport was completely destroyed and two cars parked on the street were damaged.

A second house fire was reported at 3:30 a.m. just one block away at 2436 Stryker Ave., June 16. The fire damage was mostly contained to the garage, said JBLM Deputy Fire Chief James Elways, but the inside of the home sustained extensive smoke damage.

Equity Residential, JBLM’s privatized housing contractor, will make the final decision whether to rebuild the homes. The residence on Mann Avenue is likely a complete loss, said JBLM Housing Division Chief Greta Powell. The home on Stryker Avenue sustained less damage, but Equity must determine if the house remains structurally sound, she said.

The estimated value of the fire loss has not been finalized.

Families displaced by the fires were placed in temporary lodging, and one family affected by the June 9 fire has already moved to a new residence on base.

Preliminary reports suggest the fires were electrical, fueled by combustible materials stored too closely to appliances, according to Elways.

Powell said a portion of on-base tenants’ rent covers renter’s insurance policies, but the deductible portion is an outout-of-pocket expense. A generous donation by the Sergeants Major Association of the Northwest helped the displaced families cover the deductible.

Donations poured in

Megan Mulholen moved to JBLM two weeks ago to meet her husband when he returns from deployment later this month. Like most military wives, she has trouble sleeping when her husband is away. She called fellow military wife, Sierra Tenorio, and invited her friend to stay with her for a few days. As the two sat outside talking on Mulholen’s back patio in the early morning hours of June 9, they heard something out of the ordinary — a low, continuous car horn.

When the two women went to investigate, they saw flames near a car and rushed to the duplex across the street. Mulholen pounded on the door of the “B” unit while Tenorio tried to wake the occupants in “A.”

“I felt like it took forever for someone to respond,” Mulholen said. “The fire was escalating really fast.”

Once all of the occupants of both duplexes were accounted for, Mulholen ushered the families to her house. She closed her front door so they couldn’t watch the fire. When JBLM Fire and Emergency Services arrived, Mulholen and Tenorio looked outside again to see the right side of the duplex fully engulfed in flames.

Temporary lodging was quickly coordinated for both families and household donations started to pour in. Mulholen said she offered her home as a drop-off location since she has no kids, no pets and a lot of empty space in her three-bedroom home.

“We have been really overwhelmed with donations. People were dropping them off that same day,” she said. “Both families lost everything.”

Since that night, Mulholen and Tenorio have been organizing donations with help from the families the two women helped rescue. There is an entire room of extra items — duplicate donations and clothing too big or too small for the families — set aside for a garage sale. But on Monday when Mulholen learned of another house fire in Clarkdale, she contacted the Stryker Avenue family to see if they could use any of the items.

As a military wife for 2 1/2 years, Mulholen said the fires have opened her eyes to the “amazing community” of military families at JBLM.

“When I moved here, I didn’t know anybody,” she said. “We’ve all become so close as a community over the last few days. You would be surprised how many friends come from a disaster.”

How to prevent electrical fires

Recent residential fires on Joint Base Lewis-McChord have JBLM fire officials reminding Soldiers and their families to remain vigilant about fire safety in the home.

National Fire Protection Association statistics show that 12 percent of home fires involving electrical equipment were due to extension cords and plugs, and those fires caused over 130 deaths nationally in a four-year period from 2005 to 2009.

JBLM Fire Inspector Ed Chavez said major appliances, like refrigerators, freezers, washers and dryers, should be plugged directly into a wall outlet, and not an extension cord or power strip.

“Power strips don’t protect you from a fire,” he said. “They only work if there’s a surge in electrical power.”

The NFPA suggests temporary use of extension cords since they are not designed for long-term use. When in use, do not place them across doorways or under carpets. Always follow the manufacturer’s specifications when plugging in a major appliance, Chavez said, and keep heat-producing appliances away from combustibles.

JBLM Housing Division Chief Greta Powell said all on-post residents attend a mandatory fire safety briefing upon moving into base housing.

The briefings are daily at 1 p.m. at Waller Hall.