Family loses everything in fire

It was just an average girls’ night out for Denise Wohlwend Friday, Oct. 17, until she got a call from a neighbor that her house was burning down.

Wohlwend jumped in her car, raced down SR 3 at 75 miles per hour, and returned to see what she calls the biggest tragedy of her life.

Flames were leaping off the Fifth Street house she rented with her five children and boyfriend Ben Kolar.

“I just started crying,” she said.

Kolar was first awakened at 3 a.m. by the ear-piercing sound of the kitchen smoke detector. He smelled smoke but couldn’t see it. He quickly traced the house until a splash of flames lept out of the cupboard above their refrigerator.

“I started yelling,” he said. “ ‘Get out of the house! Everybody up!’ ”

The two older girls, 15 and 12, were sleeping in the living room at the time. The 10-year-old and 8-year-old were in their bedroom. Their 4-year-old son was in his room.

That night rain was falling hard on Western Washington. Ben corralled everybody out of the house and got them in the car. He was only wearing his underwear and a T-shirt.

“I realized all the money I had was in my pants and in my wallet,” he said.

He ran back in to retrieve them and then waited outside while everything they owned burned in front of them.

What wasn’t engulfed in flames was soiled by the water from the fire department’s hoses, or charred with a smoke smell impossible to remove.

Worse yet, the family had no renter’s insurance, and so nothing they lost will be replaced.

A single pumpkin sits outside room No. 115 at the Dunes Motel, where the family has been staying since the fire.

The local branch of the American Red Cross and Salvation Army has pitched in to cover the cost of their hotel for the last week and a half. Some local churches have started clothing and furniture funds.

On Tuesday afternoon, while the kids were at school, 4-year-old Jordan played around on the bed while his mom recounted the incident.

“Mommy, mommy,” he said, half inquiring, half-pleading.

“Just a minute, honey,” Wohlwend responded.

In Kolar and Wohlwend’s room, about 10 cardboard boxes in the left corner hold every possession they own.

The kids have a room next door, with the same amount of belongings.

“We have nothing,” Kolar said.

While Kolar works at Liberty Bay Transmission during the day, Wohlwend has been scouring the rental ads in the local newspapers for a thre -to four-bedroom home.

“We just need to find a place to move into,” she said.

According to Connie Shaw, a State Farm Insurance Agent out of the Port Orchard office, people who rent an apartment or house can pay for insurance monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually.

For $30,000 coverage it costs about $200 a year.

For $50,000, which she said is average in Kitsap County, the price is $281 a year.

“It not only replaces their T.V.” she said. “It would also replace the food in their cupboards and their cosmetics, eyeglasses and clothing — all the way down to their underwear,” she said.

Scott Rappleye, the fire marshall at the Bremerton Fire Department, has been talking to Wohlwend over the phone since the fire, giving her advice on the situation.

He spoke of the importance of renter’s insurance, as well as having a number of working smoke detectors in the house.

“Out of 143 people in the Kona Village fire,” he said, “only two had renter’s insurance,” he said.

He said they usually respond to six to eight fires a month. But during the winter time, those numbers jump up to 11 or 12.

Of the fires that occur with renters, only 4 percent have insurance, he said.

Both Wohlwend and Rappleye say having fire detectors in their house saved their lives.

“They would have all been dead today,” Rappleye said.

Wohlwend said she checks her smoke detectors religiously. Two days before the fire, she had smelled smoke from a socket somewhere else in the house. An electrician came out to the house, and the next morning she got all new batteries for the detectors.

They had a detector in their kitchen, two bedrooms and the living room.

The home has an estimated value of $110,000.

According to Rappleye, any time a building owner does over $1,000 worth of improvements on their house, they are required by RCW.19.27 of Washington state law to place a smoke detector in each sleeping room, in the hallway, kitchen and basement.

The U.S. Fire Administration figures place the United States as number one in the world for deaths from fire. 5,700 people die every year.

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