EVERETT — The fire might have been sparked by lithium batteries in the kitchen junk drawer.
Or wiring under the countertop in the Grand Avenue home built in 1901.
Those are possible causes of the blaze that extensively damaged the home of a family of nine, according to Everett Fire Department reports.
Brenna and Jesse Weewie, their six young children and her grandmother who lives with them have been displaced since the April fire.
The house remained intact but not inhabitable, due to smoke. It had to be gutted to the studs and renovated inside.
The family hoped to be back home by Christmas, but the work has taken longer than expected, with April now the targeted date.
They’ve been staying in a rental home in the suburbs.
“We’re lucky we found a place where we could all live together,” Brenna said. No easy task with six kids, ranging from 6 months to newly 5.
Five are foster children and one is adopted. They would like to adopt all of them — five boys and one girl. Two have special needs.
Spending an afternoon with them is like visiting a home day care, but for them it is around-the-clock. Piles of shoes by the door. Bins of toys. A gaggle of cute and curious faces. Constant motion.
The couple married in 2009. “Jesse always wanted three kids and I wanted four kids,” said Brenna, 34.
An aggressive cancer six years ago meant she and Jesse, 37, wouldn’t be able to have biological children.
They became foster parents in 2013. They needed a bigger home for the kids and for her grandmother, Laveria Parsons, 75, who moved out of her Snohomish home and in with them three years ago.
North Everett’s Grand Avenue was an area the couple thought was out of their reach for a house with an in-law suite. She’s a stay-at-home mom and he works at the PUD warehouse.
“We ended up finding one in our price range, because it was, what would you say?” Brenna said, turning to Jesse.
“Hideous,” her husband answered. “Rust shag carpet. Flowered wallpaper.”
“Every room, big flowers,” she said. “Everything pink and yellow.”
In early 2015, they moved into the home and spent two years fixing it up. Room by room, with kids under foot, they ripped out carpet, stripped wallpaper and painted.
“The boys’ bedroom was done a month before the fire. We got new bunk beds,” Brenna said. “We’d just redone the bathroom.”
All that work is gone.
Last April, she arrived home in their 12-passenger van with all the kids after taking Parsons to a medical appointment.
A frantic neighbor ran up to the car, screaming, “Your house is on fire.”
“Smoke was pouring out of the house,” Brenna said.
Firetrucks were on the way. Soon Jesse was, too.
“I got a crazy call from Grandma when I was at work,” he said. “She was in a panic about the house being on fire.”
No one was at home except Lucy, an 11-year-old Australian cattle dog.
Brenna tried to enter the home to get Lucy. “I couldn’t see and couldn’t breathe so I made it about two steps into the door and went back out,” she said.
“There was so much chaos. They shut the whole street down. The neighbors and police cars, it was so crazy.”
The firefighters wore heavy gear and masks.
“Then you hear them with the chainsaw,” Jesse said.
The parents tried to stay calm and console the kids. Neighbors arrived to help.
Finally, a firefighter emerged, carrying Lucy. Alive.
As the smoke diminished, it was clear the family had much to do.
They needed immediate supplies: diapers, bottles, toothbrushes, clothes.
Social services, alerted to the situation, asked if they needed to come get the kids.
The couple, kids and Grandma all moved in with Jesse’s parents, who lived nearby. His parents slept in a motorhome.
The home had to be child-proofed and furnished with cribs and other supplies.
“People made an Amazon list for us. People would mail us things and drop off things at our front door. Even people we didn’t know,” Brenna said.
After a month, they found a rental home big enough for a family of eight, and Lucy.
Make that, nine. At the time of the fire there were five children. Two months later, they accepted the offer to add another foster child, a boy who was 5 days old.
Home insurance covered the physical damage. The emotional aspects remain.
“The kids were very afraid of sirens after that,” Brenna said. “The fire was so traumatizing.”
A visit to the fire station to firefighters, to see them as regular people out of uniform, helped alleviate their fears.
For Halloween, all the kids dressed as firefighters.
They made cards for the firefighters thanking them for saving Lucy and their home.
The children still talk about it.
“Our house got on fire and now we’re in this house. We rented this house,” said Landon, 5.
“The firemen came. It scared everybody,” said a second child, who can’t be named due to foster care guidelines.
“Lucy was in the fire when we were gone,” added another.
It has been an adventure for Parsons, a widow who had a small family. Her daughter, Brenna’s mom, was an only child.
Parsons has the downstairs space in the rental home. “When I hear the kids fighting and crying too much I come up here to see what’s going on.”
Two go by bus to a developmental preschool.
Parsons often goes with them and takes the rest of the gang.
“We all get our coats on and go up the hill to the bus,” Parsons said.
It keeps her in shape. Not many of her friends get to hang out at playgrounds, at least as much as she does. “They don’t go down slides and stuff like that,” she said.
Brenna said the fire has been yet another adventure in their lives.
“We made it work, and we got to keep our kids,” she said. “And we got a new one.”
Don’t just toss batteries in a drawer.
Lithium batteries deliver high output and are lightweight. Partitions between the cells and the outer covering are thin and can be punctured. A damaged battery can cause a short and the spark can ignite the highly reactive lithium. Heat can also cause the battery to explode.