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Couple loses 109-year-old home

Zack Heath, 18, looks at the damage done to his grandparents’ East Bremerton home. The Johnson Road home, owned by Marie and Joseph Bilinski, caught fire in February and the family is seeking help from the community to repair the damage. - Rachel Brant/Staff photo
Zack Heath, 18, looks at the damage done to his grandparents’ East Bremerton home. The Johnson Road home, owned by Marie and Joseph Bilinski, caught fire in February and the family is seeking help from the community to repair the damage.
— image credit: Rachel Brant/Staff photo

By RACHEL BRANT

Staff writer

Marie Bilinski didn’t shed a tear as she and her husband, Joseph, sat in lawn chairs and watched as firefighters battled a two-alarm blaze in their East Bremerton home last month.

The couple lived in the house on Johnson Road for 33 years and early one morning around Valentine’s Day, it was up in smoke.

“I felt sorry for the old girl,” Marie said about the home.

The Kitsap County Fire Marshal’s Office said it was an electrical fire that started in an outlet on the first floor of the two-story home.

“There was nothing even running off of that plug,” Marie said.

Twenty-nine firefighters from Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue, Bremerton Fire Department and Navy Region NW Fire and EMS responded to the blaze at about 3 a.m. Feb. 15. Marie has insomnia, so she was reading a book at the kitchen table, smelled smoke and called 911.

“By the time we got down the driveway it was a big, orange glow in the sky,” said Jolie Heath, the couple’s daughter. “They were sitting in lawn chairs when we got here watching it burn.”

The fire mostly stayed in the walls of the 109-year-old house, but the damage was done. Firefighters had to use chainsaws to access the walls and attic. The attic and one room were destroyed in the early morning blaze and heat, smoke and water damage is widespread throughout most of the small home.

“It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a lot of damage. It’s structurally sound,” Jolie said.

The fire marshal’s office estimates damage to the home at $60,000, according to Jolie. The Bilinskis had home insurance for 30 years, but when Joseph retired, money was scarce. The couple also had a large dog the insurance company claimed might be a danger to others and had not made an insurance claim in years, so it was tough for the longtime Bremerton residents to get insurance according to the family.

“Oh I wish we had insurance,” Jolie said. “I just wish so bad we had insurance.”

Marie said the damage estimate continued to go up the longer firefighters battled the blaze in the home’s attic.

“They were chasing it round and round in the attic and it got more and more expensive,” Marie said.

The Bilinskis raised their twin daughters, Jolie and Jina Heath, in the Johnson Road home. Jina said her mother was “grandma to everybody,” so the house was always filled with friends and family.

“In the summer everybody was here swimming in the pool,” Marie said. “This was the kid yard.”

Friends of the family helped Joseph and Marie move what was left of their belongings into storage. The American Red Cross stepped in to help the family as well.

“We moved out 35 years worth of stuff in one day,” Jolie said. “The Red Cross was wonderful. We were kind of in shock and they directed us where to go.”

Marie and Joseph are currently staying with Jolie and her two children in West Bremerton. The couple’s three dogs are living with Jina.

“We’re like sardines,” Marie chuckled.

Marie remains in good spirits because no one was injured in the fire. She said if she had not been awake at 3 a.m., she knows the fire could have been much more devastating.

“I’ll never complain about insomnia again,” Marie said with a smile. “If I had been asleep I don’t know what would have happened.”

The Johnson Road home needs new walls, a roof and electrical work among other things. The American Red Cross helped Marie and Joseph set up a fire fund at Washington Mutual. To donate money to help repair the couple’s home, visit any Washington Mutual branch and ask for the account in the name of Jolie Heath.

“Nobody was hurt and that’s the important thing. It truly isn’t as bad as it could have been,” Jolie said. “We are blessed.”

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