MUKILTEO — A father and daughter who died in a house fire near Mukilteo last week were inseparable to the end.
John “Johnny” Lee Pendergraft, 42, was a burly electrician, a scuba diver and the owner of a small farm with emus and kangaroos.
His daughter, Aria Renee Pendergraft, 7, was every bit the princess, wearing dresses as she helped him garden.
“She was his world,” said Amanda Donkersloot, 40, who has known the Pendergraft family for more than two decades. “They did everything together.”
The farm where they lived was named AJ’s Acre, for Aria and John.
Around 3:30 a.m. April 15, firefighters converged on their one-story home in the 2800 block of York Road. Callers reported hearing loud noises and seeing smoke and fire coming from the house at the end of a long driveway.
By the time fire engines arrived, the house was engulfed in flames, South County Fire spokesperson Leslie Hynes said. It was too dangerous for crews to access most of the interior, she said.
“The rapidly moving fire had already heavily damaged the house,” according to a South County Fire news release. “Flames were through the roof and visible in most of the windows. The floor was nearing the point of collapse. Firefighters initially were unsure if anyone was inside. They searched the only room they could access and did not find any victims.”
After they knocked down the fire, crews found John and Aria Pendergraft together, even though they slept in separate rooms. They died at the scene.
The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office is still investigating the cause and manner of their deaths. And the Snohomish County Fire Marshal’s Office is still investigating the cause of the fire.
Since the tragic incident, Donkersloot said she has been amazed by the outpouring of support from the friends John Pendergraft had amassed through his life, from high school and work, and from farming and diving. He always had a unique ability to make and keep friends, she said.
“He always made you feel like he was your best friend, and you were the only person around,” said Donkersloot, who described John Pendergraft as like a brother.
And everyone had nothing but love for his daughter, Aria, who was in the first grade. She was a “girly girl” who liked playing dress-up, and who Donkersloot said had much of her dad’s charm. Aria got her sense of fashion, as well as her love of cooking, from her mother, said her uncle, Joe McGee.
John Pendergraft was born in Texas and grew up in Washington. He graduated from Snohomish County Christian High School, and ever since he has been an electrician with Active Engineering in Lynnwood.
In his free time he liked scuba diving in Puget Sound near Edmonds. He also took trips to tropical locales such as Mexico or Hawaii.
“He just loved being in the water,” Donkersloot said. “He loved it so much he became an instructor, to share that joy with other people.”
For as long as Donkersloot could remember, John Pendergraft always had a love for animals. It started with a ferret. He got pigs and birds and rabbits. The property became home to more exotic creatures, too, including emus and three kangaroos: Pockets, Apollo and Pockets Jr.
“If there ever was an animal that needed help, he would go out of his way to help,” Donkersloot said.
Eventually someone decided to make a Facebook page for the Pendergrafts’ plot of land, so they could post photos of all the animals.
John Pendergraft’s daughter took it upon herself to name some of the animals. There was Fluffy Blue Butt, the Ameraucana chicken, and there was the pig she called Fozzi the Bear Pig.
The small farm made local headlines in March, when three emus went on the lam in Mukilteo. The flightless birds were found, safe, fairly quickly. John Pendergraft told a Herald reporter at the time he was grateful to see them come back.
Now the farm is shut down for good. All of the animals have been relocated, family said.
John Pendergraft’s house was first bought by his great-grandmother and had been with the family for four generations. He wanted to fix it up and return it to its former glory, Donkersloot said, so he could keep the property in the family.
“He wanted to make his grandma proud,” Donkersloot said.
After the fire, the house was a total loss.
The family wanted to thank the agencies that responded to the scene, including the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, South County Fire and the Snohomish County Fire Marshal’s Office, “for their compassion and professionalism and dedication to the family throughout this horrible experience.”
John and Aria Pendergraft are survived by Aria’s mother; John’s mother and father, Linda and John Sr. Pendergraft; his sister and her husband, Angela and Mark Mantooth; and their son, Donevan Mantooth.
An online fundraiser has been started to help the family with the memorials and other expenses: gofund.me/c5ea6efd. As of Wednesday, it had raised nearly $3,000.