LONG BEACH — Marie Schultz clutched her dog against her chest as tears ran down her cheeks.
It was a moment of sheer joy during a morning of uncertainty. A Tuesday fire ravaged an apartment building on Long Beach’s north side, leaving several residents homeless ahead of the holiday season.
“I thought I was going to lose her,” Schultz said.
Several people and their pets were safely evacuated and no immediate injuries were reported in the fire, first reported at about 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Beach Center Apartments on the 1100 block of Ocean Beach Boulevard North in Long Beach.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Long Beach Volunteer Fire Department, Long Beach Police, Ilwaco Fire Department, Pacific County Fire District 1 and Long Beach Police responded to the call.
Fire responders at the scene observed little outward sign of fire. However, smoke soon began billowing from the area between the floors of the building. Much of the resulting emergency response consisted of going from room to room to track down and extinguish hot spots within the building’s structure. There was no immediate information about when or if the building will be habitable.
Tabitha Kruse, 27, was one of the first to witness the fire.
“I was out walking my dog and I saw smoke and flames,” Kruse said.
“I got a pitcher of water and tried to put it out but it wouldn’t go out. I didn’t know where it was coming from. I went inside and felt the wall and it was hot, so I got my dog and we all came out here and called the fire company.”
Shane Ahlers, 33, was home alone in his room unaware of the blaze when a firemen nearly kicked his door alerting him he was in danger.
“Sh** happens,” Ahlers said as he watched fireman work to contain the fire from a safe distance.
Ahlers said that the Christmas gifts he purchased were likely gone due to damage from the fire, smoke and water.
As heavy smoke billowed from the building Tuesday morning, more concerned tenants began to arrive on the scene, some not immediately knowing the status of their family or pets inside.
“When I got here smoke was pouring out and it scared me to death,” said Athena Wildenborg, who had lived with her 17-year-old son, a dog and a cat. All three were safely evacuated.
“The most important thing is that my son and pets got out,” Wildenborg said. “Everything else can be replaced.”
Jazmyn Comito, 31, was at working at the Best Western Motel when she heard about the fire. Comito stood with fellow tenant Trace Fowler in the parking lot and wondered what tomorrow will bring.
Others hugged their children as they talked about the potential fallout from the fire.
“We’re all close here,” Comito said.
“It’s really rough. Housing is already tough on the Peninsula. If people can’t stay here, where are they going to go?
Susie Goldsmith, co-owner of nearby Boreas Inn, offered to help evacuees in need of emergency lodging. As of about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, no one from the apartments had taken up the offer, she said.
Goldsmith reported the Southwest Washington Chapter of the American Red Cross was on the scene, attempting to address short-term housing needs.
The Red Cross did not respond to a request for additional information before the Observer went to press.