Blaze destroys South Kitsap home

A South Kitsap family remains homeless after a fire last Thursday afternoon that gutted its Pine Tree Drive home.

The fire was first noticed by neighbors around 2:40 p.m., although officials have no way of telling how long the fire had been burning before then. Investigators believe it started on the back deck of the one-story dwelling and, once it got established, spread quickly up the walls.

A teen-aged resident, the daughter of the owner, was at home in her bedroom when the fire started, but Fire District 7 officials said she had no idea her home was on fire until she heard a neighbor screaming outside.

By that point, said Assistant Fire Chief Gary Faucett, half the house was engulfed in flames.

“She was able to get out, but it was very, very scary,” he said.

Fire crews got to the home, located just a few blocks away from the Fircrest fire station in the 2700 block of Pine Tree, approximately six minutes after the first 911 call was made.

By that point, however, the house was fully involved and burning fiercely. Faucett said television crews in Seattle reported seeing the heat column from the fire all the way on the other side of Puget Sound.

Realizing the home was already a total loss, Faucett said the duty chief ordered the crews to try and contain the fire and keep it from spreading, but not to try and put it out from the inside. Faucett said it’s highly unusual for a home to be that far gone by the time crews arrive, especially if they can get there in 10 minutes or less.

“We don’t see many homes around here that are fully involved,” he said. “In most cases, we can do some significant saving of property.”

It took firefighters nearly five hours to extinguish the fire and clean up. Faucett said crews spend at least two hours chasing hot spots in the rubble, making sure nothing was left to smoulder and possibly reignite. In the end, all that was left of the house was the walls and a bit of roof.

Total losses were estimated at $240,000 — $140,000 for the house and $100,000 for the contents.

Deputy fire marshal Ed Iskra said the unusually extensive damage may be the fault of the deck. He said the decking was no-rot, polymer-based material. Because plastics are petroleum-based, Iskra explained, when the deck caught fire and started to melt, the results were the equivalent of throwing buckets of gasoline against the side of the house.

In addition, he said, plastic burns a lot hotter than wood — somewhere between 1,800 degrees and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, versus approximately 1,000 degrees for wood.

The combination, Iskra concluded, was a hot, fast-moving fire that literally devoured the house. He said this fire should serve as fair warning to people who use non-wood-based material for construction. Incendiary devices such as barbecues, Iskra said, should be kept far away from plastic decks and patios.

“It’s nice, because it doesn’t rot,” he said. “But folks have to be careful.”

Iskra hasn’t yet confirmed how the fire started, but he said he has a pretty good idea.

Even though the two top suspects — a hot barbecue and improperly disposed-of ashes — have been eliminated, Iskra said there’s absolutely no evidence of arson or any other deliberate act.

“They hadn’t been having problems with neighbors or friends or anything like that,” he said.

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