Family rebuilds after a fire destroys their home and all their belongings

The Peterson family, from left, Elan, Wesley, Lisbeth, Soren, Brennan and Josiah, with their cat Jasper, say they’re grateful to be together and in a nice home. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
The Peterson family, from left, Elan, Wesley, Lisbeth, Soren, Brennan and Josiah, with their cat Jasper, say they’re grateful to be together and in a nice home.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

The Vashon family who lost their home to a dramatic and fast-moving fire Wednesday say they've been touched and amazed by the community's outpouring of support.

Wesley and Lisbeth Peterson and their four sons began renting the 2,200-square-foot home on the 16900 block of Westside Highway 10 months ago, after Wesley got a job as one of Puget Sound Energy's two service linemen on Vashon.

Now, as the family begins the arduous task of rebuilding their lives after a devastating fire that destroyed nearly all of their belongings, they realize how grateful they are to live on the Island, Wesley said, a place they were drawn to because of its strong community spirit.

"We've been sincerely, emotionally moved by the outpouring of the community's support. It just confirmed that we made the right decision to move here," he said.

"I don't recommend that everyone experience a house fire to realize how good this community is. But we feel ... grateful and moved by the support," he added.

The couple's two oldest sons, Elan, 16, and Brennan, 11, had already left for school — the first day of the new school year — when Lisbeth looked out the kitchen window and saw smoke billowing out of the carport. Wearing only her bathrobe, she quickly got her two other boys — Josiah, 7, and Soren, 4 — out of the house, backed the family car out of the carport and called 911. By the time Josh Munger, a captain at Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, showed up with the first engine, he encountered what he described as a huge wall of flames.

A large crew of both career and volunteer firefighters spent the next few hours battling the blaze, a fire that former fire chief Mike Kirk called "cantankerous" in light of how hard it was to quell.

"It's hard to get at the seat of it because it spread so fast," he said at the scene Wednesday morning, stripping off his spent oxygen tank.

The effort to douse the blaze was dramatic at times. The fire appeared to be nearly out at the blackened shell of a house when a red-orange glow appeared from an inner hallway that firefighters couldn't easily reach.

Concerned that the roof might collapse, firefighters opted not to enter the home to put out the remaining blaze and instead cut an opening into the exterior wall of the house to get at it. They also used a ladder that gave them access to a broken-out window, hosing the fire that way.

When the blaze burst through the roof, VIFR Chief Hank Lipe said it would make the final firefighting easier. "It's actually beneficial," he said, as he watched firefighters turn their hoses on the roof.

"What we're trying to do is save the integrity of the downstairs, because they have stuff down there," he added.

Ironically, Peterson was among those called to the blaze. A dispatcher with PSE called him and his coworker to "de-energize" the house because of the fire. By that time, Peterson said, he had already heard from his wife and thus told the dispatcher it was his house that was ablaze. The dispatcher could hardly believe it, Peterson said.

"It was almost comical at first," he said.

But in fact, the family is still in a state of shock about how their lives have turned upside down. There's also some heart-ache: Their cat and guinea pig survived the fire, but their dog did not, Peterson said.

But with the help of friends, neighbors and complete strangers, they're quickly getting back on their feet, he said. The property manager who rented the home to them was able to find a furnished vacation rental in Dockton — and even transferred their September rent to cover the cost of a month at the new place, Peterson said. Clothes have poured in, as have groceries and other goods, he said.

What's more, because of the property manager's insistence, the Petersons had rental insurance. Peterson balked at her requirement, he recalled. "Now, I should kiss her feet," he said.

Meanwhile, their three school-age kids got off to school Thursday. And their 4-year-old, he added, was doing somersaults yesterday.

"They seem to be doing remarkably well," he said of his four boys.

The family is in need of clothes and other basic supplies. Those who want to contribute can drop off items, gift cards or cash at the PSE community service office at 18125 Vashon Hwy. S.W.




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