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Fast-spreading blaze claims waterfront home on Vashon

Fire Chief Hank Lipe and another firefighter watch as the remnants of a home on Paige Lane burns Sunday evening. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
Fire Chief Hank Lipe and another firefighter watch as the remnants of a home on Paige Lane burns Sunday evening.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

A waterfront home on Vashon’s west side burned to the ground Sunday afternoon after a generator apparently backfired, triggering the blaze.

Dennis Schmidt, who owns the hand-crafted, three-story house with his wife Wendy Demeter, was home when the accident occurred. He had just unplugged a generator when he heard the machine make a loud sound and saw smoke, he said. He called 911, grabbed the family dog and turtle, the computers and some family photos and then ran out of the house as a blaze began to spread.

By the time Vashon Island Fire & Rescue’s first truck arrived, eight minutes later, the 2,700-square-foot home on the end of Paige Lane was fully engulfed.

Standing on the driveway as the last remnants of the home burned Sunday evening, Schmidt said he felt “sick to my stomach.” Demeter and the couple’s two children, ages 6 and 9, were in California at the time of the incident.

Despite the loss of his house, Schmidt had no criticism of the fire department. “These guys go as fast as they can,” he said.

Fire Chief Hank Lipe said crews were hampered by a lack of fire hydrants near the home, the situation in most parts of rural Vashon. But in this instance, he added, it would have made little difference.

“It was gone” by the time firefighters arrived on the scene, he said. “That thing was ripping.”

At that point, he said, the crew’s mission was to ensure the fire didn’t spread to neighboring homes. Firefighters, he added, successfully pulled some propane tanks out of the garage, a move that helped curb the extent of the disaster.

The house fire topped what Lipe called an extremely busy week for the fire department. Monday’s fierce snow and windstorm triggered a number of accidents and related problems. Last week, he said, the fire department received calls about cars that went off the road, pipes that burst, medical emergencies and two other structure fires — a chimney fire and a fire in a wall, both of which crews quelled.

All told, the fire department received 57 calls last week and a total of 147 calls for the month. Last year for the month of November, the department received 103 calls.

“It’s been a rough week,” he said.

Lipe urged Islanders to take care as they struggle with inclement weather, power outages and other problems that could be in store during what some predict will be a harsher winter than normal.

“It’s the heating season. Just be careful,” he said.

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