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Apartment fire victims regroup
For Rick Lott, last Tuesday started out like just about any other day for him. As manager of the Madrona Estate Apartments on Auto Center Way, he was up and making a list of things that he needed to get done before he headed off to his girlfriend’s house in Port Orchard for Christmas Eve festivities.
And then everything changed.
Lott heard the fire alarms going off outside his apartment. Still in his slippers, he ran outside to see what was happening.
“I saw a lot of smoke,” Lott said. “But I didn’t see fire. I thought it was something I could put out myself. I was confident I could, so I got the fire extinguisher and went down a floor below me where the smoke was.”
Soon, he knew it was more than he could handle by himself.
“The office manager had already called 9-1-1,” Lott said. “But I had my cell and I called her and told her it was getting big and get the fire department here.”
He immediately began knocking on doors and windows and screaming “fire.”
“I went to the two apartments where I knew there were single moms with kids,” he said. “I had to make sure the kids got out OK”
Then he went to the apartment below him, where he had seen so much smoke.
“I tried to bust down the door,” he said. “But I couldn’t. It was just too hot.”
Then the realization came. His apartment was right above where it seemed the fire had started. And the fire was out of control.
“By then, I couldn’t get back to my place to try to get anything out,” he said. “I just tried to gather all the residents and get them away from the building.”
The morning fire took the life of Dora M. Crockett, 78, the woman who lived below Lott. There is no official cause yet, according to the Bremerton Fire Department, and the fire is still under investigation.
The Kitsap County Coroner’s office said Crockett died of asphyxia due to inhalation of toxic combustible materials. The manner of death is listed as accidental.
“She was a lovely woman,” said Lott. “I knew her fairly well. She didn’t have family around here, but she has daughters. She was very nice and will be deeply missed.”
Following the fire, at least 48 residents had to be cared for elsewhere. By Sunday, all but five or six had been able to return to their apartments. Those whose units were so severely damaged that they will not be able to return are being helped by the Red Cross and are being relocated to other apartments.
As for those who returned, they, too, lost things.
“For many of them, there was no electricity, even when they came back home,” said community volunteer Robert Parker. Parker and another volunteer Jane Rebelowski went into action as soon as they heard about the fire. Through the Volunteer Bremerton and the Manette Neighborhood Facebook pages, they put out the call for help.
“People really responded,” said Parker. “What we discovered was that the Red Cross was helping get people into motels. But when it was time for those who could to come home, they were without a lot.”
He said the volunteers sought out donations from individuals and from area Goodwill stores — things like towels, sleeping bags, and some clothing — anything that would help those who were displaced and those who were returning to their apartments.
“These are some of our city’s poorest,” Parker said. “And because the electricity was out, they lost all the food they had in their refrigerators and freezers.” Gift cards to area grocery stores were donated and are still needed. Some folks had to replace clothing and other items that were too smoky to keep.
“During the first days back, some apartments didn’t have their electricity on yet, so they couldn’t cook,” said Parker. “We went to WinCo and brought back warm roasted chickens.”
Electricity has now been restored to the units that can be occupied.
Parker has been thoroughly impressed with all the help from volunteers.
“As things pop up, we try to meet the need,” he said. “Bremerton residents have been very giving. Slowly, normal is coming back for most of them. But there are some units that will have to be rebuilt. They’re a charcoal mess.”
What’s going to help the most now, he said, is help replacing food for the residents who are back in their apartments. Boxes of non-perishable food or gift cards to WinCo and other grocery stores can be donated through Rejuv Spa at 1107 Scott Ave., Ste. B, Bremerton. Or call Parker at 360-710-0889.
Meanwhile, Lott is looking to find somewhere closer to the apartments to stay until an empty unit can be readied for him.
“I need to be on-site as soon as possible,” said Lott. “Hopefully by next week I can be living back at the place.”
He’s also overwhelmed at the help that’s been given.
“It’s such a tragedy,” he said. “But the response has been so great. It’s restored my faith in mankind. The community has really pulled together.”
Lott said before the fire everyone knew each other, but “now we really know each other. We’ve been through so much together. We’re all family now.”
It was several days after the fire that Lott was able to have his Christmas celebration with his girlfriend and her family, including a granddaughter who was born Dec. 18.
“I’ve basically been working 24 hours a day since the fire happened,” he said. “Maybe sleeping at the Midway Hotel a couple of hours a night…”
Right after the fire he was allowed into his place to get the Christmas gifts that survived. And Saturday, he went back in his apartment to see what else may have made it.
“A couple of houseplants survived, and I got one computer that’s OK,” he said. “I saw my Christmas tree, and it’s just a trunk, all the needles burnt.”
It’s been so difficult to lose a friend, all of his belongings and see all his tenants lose so much, Lott said, especially at Christmas.
“It’s been trying,” he said. “But we’ve stuck together. We’ve gotten great support and we are gonna make it.”