ARLINGTON — A fire that consumed an Arlington home late Friday, killing two boys, has shocked the north Snohomish County community.
Throughout Arlington, news spread quickly that the two young lives, 11 and 12, were lost.
“It’s just such a tragedy, an absolute tragedy,” Arlington city spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said. “As part of the greater Arlington community, it’s just gut wrenching. Your gut hurts and your heart hurts.”
Preliminary findings show that the horrific inferno began accidentally, fire officials said.
The two-alarm blaze likely started at a faulty electrical outlet and spread quickly, said Gary Bontrager, a fire investigator with the Snohomish County Fire Marshal’s Office. The dollar loss is estimated at $525,000.
Saturday morning, the remains of the boys were removed from the Bryant-area home as firefighters continued to battle hot spots.
“It’s been tragic this morning,” North County Fire Battalion Chief Christian Davis said Saturday.
Smoke alarms alerted the family to the fire just before 11 p.m. in the 22800 block of 19th Drive NE, Davis said. Eight family members, including six other children, escaped the blaze.
“We want to stress that we did lose two children in that fire, but the smoke detectors were working and that’s what alerted the family and got most of the family out,” Bontrager said.
The Snohomish County medical examiner is expected to conduct autopsies. Officials have not released the boys’ names.
Local leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which the family belongs, said they want to respect the family’s wishes for privacy.
House was foster home
County Executive Aaron Reardon said he can’t imagine a greater loss than that of a child.
“Our hearts and our prayers go out to the family,” he said. “This is an unfortunate reminder that tragedy can strike any of us.”
Some of the children in the home were foster children, Davis said. Investigators are not certain if the boys who died were among the foster children living in the home.
The oldest of the surviving children is 19, and the youngest is about 7 years old, Davis said.
Although it wasn’t clear Saturday if the boys attended schools in the Arlington School District, officials there activated their crisis network, preparing to help students, teachers and others grapple with grief.
“We’re going to need to have something in place regardless,” spokeswoman Misti Gilman said.
Extra counselors will be available next week to provide staff and students with support.
“We were shocked and saddened to learn of this tragic event. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the family. We will join this community in rallying to assist them in any way we can during this extremely difficult time,” Superintendent Kristine McDuffy said.
The fire appeared to start in the south end of the home. The boys’ bodies were found in rooms in the home’s northwest corner, one on the first floor, the other above on the second floor, Bontrager said.
The surviving family members were taken to a hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation and minor burns, Davis said. People from the family’s church and Support 46, a relief organization in the Arlington Fire Department, were helping them Saturday.
Some neighbors and friends gathered near the home Saturday morning, consoling each other with hugs. Earlier, some neighbors made coffee and pastries for the weary fire crews.
The family had been working to expand the house and add extra bedrooms, neighbor Steve Schaaf said.
That construction and a lack of sheet rock throughout the structure may have given the fire hold and allowed it to spread so quickly, Bontrager said. There were no apparent building code violations, he said.
The homeowners told investigators there had been problems with the outlet believed to be the source of the fire in the past. A fish tank plugged into a power strip once had overheated, the fire investigator said.
It’s not known if the fish tank was still powered by the outlet, he said.
Investigators now will work with the property owner’s insurance company, Bontrager said. They may have to wait until early next week to enter the home’s charred skeleton and collect more evidence.
“It’s a sad, sad tragedy,” said Schaaf, who lives next door. “The whole house was orange. Flames were coming out of every window and door.”
About an hour after the fire started, bitter smoke still filled the air, and the glow from the cul-de-sac could be seen several miles away.
Family arrived a year ago
Schaaf said the family moved in about a year ago.
A group of neighbors crowded Schaaf’s front yard early Saturday. They watched as the wind carried a cloud of smoke up and away from the house.
Zack Herr, 14, and his family noticed the blaze through the trees and went to offer help.
There wasn’t much they could do.
“When we got here, the flames were maybe 50 feet high. I just watched the house burn down,” Herr said.
It was a hot and dangerous fire. Crews arrived within six minutes of the first 911 call and the blaze was too hot for firefighters to enter the home, Davis said.
A neighbor called emergency dispatchers at 10:54 p.m. to say a house was on fire. Moments later, the person called 911 again to say that flames engulfed the home and some of the children might be trapped, Davis said.
That triggered a second alarm and firefighters from the surrounding areas were summoned.
50 firefighters respond
More than 50 firefighters from six different districts responded, including Arlington, Arlington Heights, Stanwood, Marysville, Silvana and North County.
“It was quite a battle,” Davis said.
Karen Kvernenes was cleaning up in her kitchen when she heard sirens and looked out the window.
“The whole house was absolutely in flames,” she said. “It took that house so fast, it was ridiculous.”
She grabbed her camera and ran to snap photos.
Later, she learned the fire claimed two young lives.
“That was pretty horrifying,” Kvernenes said. “It’s everyone’s worse fear.”
It’s the second fatal fire in Snohomish County this year.
A makeshift heater and a power strip started a fire on Sept. 30 in a Snohomish mobile home.
Four people died. The victims were Maria “Sandra” Montaño, 28; her daughters Ashley, 7, and Yareli, 4; and her sister, Petra “Claudia” Montaño, 25.
The early morning blaze killed the family as they slept. The home didn’t have smoke detectors.
In Arlington on Saturday, as the sun glowed orange, a lone bouquet of flowers was placed near where police tape quarantined the home that burned so furiously only hours before. An abandoned playset remained in the back yard.
“It’s not just the family that’s affected,” Schaaf said. “It goes way out.”
Herald writer Krista J. Kapralos contributed to this report.
Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fire safety tips
Here are some tips from fire officials to safeguard homes:
Install smoke alarms in or near each sleeping area on every level. Follow the manufacturer’s installation, maintenance and testing instructions.
Consider installing fire sprinklers. They can protect lives and property.
Have a home escape plan. Ensure each person knows two ways out of each room. If a fire starts, leave the home immediately. If a door is hot to the touch, do not open it and use the secondary escape route.
Designate a meeting place outside.
Source: Washington State Fire Marshal