Family loses home to fire

Tenants evacuate Douglas duplex hit by early morning blaze

Posted: Monday, February 14, 2000

A woman, her two young children and a man lost their Douglas apartment early this morning to a fire that apparently began in the kitchen as tenants slept.

Only two of the seven people who live in the duplex were home at the time, according to one tenant and the building's co-owner, and no one was hurt.

The upper floor of the unit, at 718 Fifth Street, was pretty much involved in fire when firefighters arrived, said Lt. Peter Bonnell of Capital City Fire and Rescue. The blaze was confined to the upper floor, which is at the street level, he said.

Fire investigator Mike Tagaban told the building owners the fire appeared to have started near a microwave oven.

The duplex's co-owner, Richard Lee, said he wasn't sure how much the burned apartment's lower floor was damaged by water or smoke. The other apartment, shared by three people, smelled of smoke this morning but didn't appear to be damaged except in its laundry room.

``Thank God for Sheetrock,'' Lee said. ``Sheetrock does a good job of containing the fire.''

Lee said the woman who lived in the burned apartment woke about 1:30 a.m. ``She said she got upstairs and it was just smoke everywhere. She saw flames in the kitchen.''

The woman said she re-entered the apartment three times to call 911 because she couldn't get through to the emergency operator the first two times, Lee said.

Dispatchers got several calls about the fire, said Police Lt. Walt Boman. There are two 911 operators, and it's unusual not to get through to one right away, he said. When those lines are busy, callers get a message telling them to hold on.

After calling 911, the woman then banged on the duplex's other apartment to wake up the residents.

Erich DeLand, the only tenant home at the time, said he was sleeping soundly. ``They were yelling at me to get out. Boom, I was out of there.''

Smoke detectors went off after the tenants left the building, he said.

Co-owners Richard and Chava Lee offered to put the woman up in their home for the night, but she chose to stay with friends. The other tenant in the burned apartment is their son.

Richard Lee said the building is insured. The exterior didn't show much damage, but this morning he wasn't sure of the roof's condition. He was working on the boiler.

``I'm just glad everyone's safe, more than anything else,'' he said.

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