OCEAN PARK - It's Saturday night at 6 p.m. and you're going to friends for dinner. The wife and kids have gone ahead, you are about to leave the neighbor's with ice you've borrowed when you see through the trees flames shooting from your upstairs window.
If you are Jeff Bartlett, 43 of Ocean Park, you rush back to your friend's home and have him call 911. Brad Heimbigner, neighbor, just out of the shower after a day of working in the oyster beds of Willapa Bay, makes the call then sprints to hook up his water hose. Bartlett runs inside his burning home with an extinguisher, but the flames drive him outside. Another foray inside from Heimbigner and Bartlett nets a few valuables, but the sound of "stuff falling upstairs" and the intense heat causing a fiberglass awning out front to melt, drives the duo to safety outside.
Heimbigner's cries of "Get yourself outta here," and Bartlett's comments of "I was freaking out," sum up the situation. Minutes after the call to 911, fire chief, Tom O'Donohue arrives at 202 "P" Street, Ocean Park.
A couple of minutes later the first fire truck is on scene and local firefighters begin to knock the flames down that are shooting 20 feet above Bartlett's A-frame home. Within minutes the raging fire is extinguished and firefighters don oxygen tanks and begin to mop up. Fast action by all involved keeps the carnage to a minimum, as evidenced by burn damage at the top of Bartlett's collage of family pictures, but of the photos below in the same frame being salvaged.
Bartlett says of the disaster, "I am thankful no one was hurt. If the clamming season had been on, our 6-year-old daughter, Rachel, would have probably been home alone watching cartoons upstairs where the fire started."
Inspectors determined the fire was due to an electrical problem in an outlet by Rachel's bed. Bartlett's wife, Brenda, came back to her home in total panic. "I could smell the smoke as I arrived. I was screaming and could hear the fiberglass over the porch pop and crackle from the heat. I knew the fire was bad, but I could hear the sirens and knew help was on the way."
"I saw my husband, Jeff, was OK and I knew our kids were safe. Now our children are in their same routine and it's business as usual without disruptions," Brenda explains, standing in front of the motor home they have rented to live in while they rebuild. "I'm so thankful for Tom O'Donohue and the fire department. They treated us as people and not just as a job," Mrs. Bartlett said.
After the fire was out, and while the local fire department was still looking for hotspots, Paul, a senior at Ilwaco High School returned to stare in disbelief. Brenda told her daughter the next day, "We have had an accidental fire and the upstairs has burnt. The cat is OK, but all of your things are burned up."
Kathy Moore from Okie's Sentry Market and Brad and Cheryl Woodham from the same store, where Brenda works, supplied food and support throughout the next day. Rachel asked, "Even my bed is burnt up?" Her mom answered in the affirmative, but reassured, "We'll get you a princess bed." The next day Bartlett said, "The shock set in for all of us. The upstairs and all of our possessions and memories stored there were gone. The downstairs of our home was soaked, but the fire department did a great job of covering and protecting our things."
Friends and neighbors have been very supportive of the Bartletts and their insurance company has come to their aid already. The Bank in Ocean Park has set up a fund to further help the Bartletts. Jeff says, "I want to thank the fire department, Mr. O'Donohue, my neighbors, and our community for supporting us through this fire and difficult time." And guess what Rachel studied in school Monday - fire safety. "Rachel's fire escape plan included ladders from every window," Brenda says, a smile easing the fatigue showing on her face.
Gray, Rachel's cat, had slipped back in the lower portion of the house the night of the fire and purrs softly at her owner's feet. "We'll all be back together in a new house-and I'll have a princess bed," Rachel says shyly.