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Neighbor's quick response snuffs fire at church

John Keene rushed outside across his snowy yard and through a blackberry bramble carrying a fire extinguisher to put out a fire he saw the morning of Jan. 20 at the church next to his house. - Brett Cihon/Staff photo
John Keene rushed outside across his snowy yard and through a blackberry bramble carrying a fire extinguisher to put out a fire he saw the morning of Jan. 20 at the church next to his house.
— image credit: Brett Cihon/Staff photo

John Keene’s Friday morning started like any other. He stood in his underwear, gazing out his kitchen window waiting for his coffee to brew.

Within minutes he was saving a neighborhood church.

“I was looking at the trees out of my kitchen window,” Keene said. “I saw a flickering over at the church, and it took me a minute to figure out something wasn’t right.”

Keene’s property on Carmea Drive borders the back side of the Adventure of Faith Church. A row of short trees and a thick layer of blackberry bushes makes the church, with its covered overhang, hard to see from Keene’s kitchen window.

And if he wasn’t looking extra hard last Friday, he said, he might not have spotted a fire that could have jeopardized the building.

“I had been paying attention to the trees because they were covered with snow and ice,” he said, noting he was afraid their limbs would break because of the last week’s winter storm. “I thought they (the church) left a light on or something.”

What Keene saw lighting the back side of the church wasn’t a light. It was the beginning of a fire that charred the siding of the church.

“It took me a little while to realize ‘no, no, that’s a fire.’”

According to Battalion Chief Guy Dalrymple of South Kitsap Fire and Rescue, the fire was started around 7:30 a.m. — right around when Keene looked out his window.

The fire was a warming fire, intentionally set in the church’s outdoor covered area as a means for someone to keep warm, Kitsap County Fire Marshal Tina Turner said. Whoever started the fire left, leaving the small blaze unattended.

Keene quickly got dressed once he realized what was going on at the church, he said. He woke his wife, Kathy, and asked her to make sure his eyes weren’t playing a trick on him before he ran outside with the fire extinguisher.

“He said,” Kat, can you take a look at this,” Kathy Keene said. “I told him I didn’t see anything through the trees, but he told me that he saw a fire.”

Keene grabbed a fire-extinguisher and his cellphone before running out into the morning. By time he was outside, he said, he was sure there was a fire at the church, and that it was up against the wall.

But instead of finding an easy path to put the fire out, he had to make is way through about six feet of blackberry bushes that separate his property from the church’s. He was soon on his hands and knees pushing through brush.

“I was on the phone with the fire department, I was maneuvering the fire extinguisher and I was pushing brush away with my arm,” he said. “It was hard going.”

By the time Keene had reached the fire, the flames had started to crawl up the side of the wall. After two blasts of the fire extinguisher, the flames were out, but Keene wasn’t sure if there was any damage to the inside of the building. Once SKFR arrived at the church, Lieutenant Shane Jones used a Thermal Imaging Camera to make sure the fire had been properly put out. They found that it had, and they thanked the neighbor who had climbed under the blackberry bushes.

Keene went back to his coffee, downplaying his status as good Samaritan. The thanks wasn’t necessary, he said.

“I saw a fire, a grabbed a fire extinguisher and I put it out,” he said.

Teresa Scott, an administrator at Adventures of Faith, sees things a bit differently. The fire had already started to do some serious damage to the windows and siding of the church, she said.

“It was a small smoldering,” she said. “But it did do some damage.”

The church was lucky Keene was looking out his window that day, she said. If not, one can only guess how large the fire would have grown.

“If he hadn’t put it out when he had we might be in a different situation,” she said. “It’s good to have good neighbors around.”

 

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