SULTAN — As snow fell on the dark, forested roads south of Sultan early Monday morning, firefighters struggled to make their way to a secluded house that had caught fire.
Trapped inside was a girl, 8, who later died from her injuries.
“It was very frustrating, very difficult times for us,” said Fire District 5 Chief Merlin Halverson.
A total of five people were at the home on Dotson Road along Cedar Ponds Lake. Two children were sleeping in a loft inside and three adults, estimated to be in their 30s, were outside smoking, when hanging clothes fell onto a wood stove, Halverson said.
There were no smoke detectors to warn anyone of the impending fire, Halverson said.
By the time people rushed into the home around 1:30 a.m., the flames were already too intense to get to the children. A young boy found his way out, but the girl was trapped, Halverson said.
Someone used a ladder to climb to the second story, break a window and grab her.
She was severely burned and barely conscious. A neighbor put her and her mother in a truck and drove down the road to meet up with medics. On the way to the hospital, firefighters intubated the girl and performed CPR to get her breathing again.
She later died at Harborview Medical Center. Her name and cause of death will be released by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.
A deputy fire chief, driving a smaller vehicle, maneuvered his way up the road to retrieve the rest of the family. The boy and three adults were taken to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett to be treated for burns and other injuries. They’re expected to survive.
Fire engines never made it to the house. The miles-long, single-lane road leading to the home proved too difficult to navigate.
“It’s a very bad road,” Halverson said. “It’s got deep ruts, no curbs, nobody grades it, nobody plows it.”
On a good day, firefighters might take 20 minutes to respond to a call on Dotson Road, he said. In the middle of a winter storm, during the night, getting there proved impossible for the district’s 21-ton fire engines.
Firefighters spent much of their time cutting through fallen trees and trying to stay on a road that had been obscured by inches of snow. Two fire engines slid into ditches, Halverson said.
“It was getting to the point where it didn’t make any sense,” he said. “The house was destroyed anyway.”
With trees falling down around them, Halverson said he didn’t want to further risk his firefighters. They turned around.
Halverson asked people to be “extra vigilant” in taking precautions during winter storms, when road conditions make it difficult for firefighters and medics to respond. He urged people to check smoke detectors and not to leave young children alone.