Overnight blaze destroys Preston home before Christmas

December 27, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Family escapes unharmed as firefighters battle flames, elements

Brian Jarvis, a firefighter with Eastside Fire & Rescue Engine 72, sprays water into a window of a burning Preston family home Dec. 22. By Eastside Fire & Rescue

Firefighters lost a battle against the elements early Dec. 22, and a predawn blaze left a Preston family homeless only days before Christmas.

The rural location along a tight, steep road less than a mile from Interstate 90 left firefighters little room to maneuver to combat the flames. The lack of fire hydrants in the neighborhood also limited firefighters’ options.

Flames tore through the home at 8303 293rd Ave. S.E. at about 2:45 a.m. The occupants escaped unharmed, but a firefighter suffered a minor burn to the face and is expected to recover.

Eastside Fire & Rescue and other nearby emergency aid agencies responded to the blaze after the homeowner called 911 and said a fire started in the garage and spread into the wood-frame house. The house and attached garage belched flames and smoke as firefighters arrived at the scene moments later.

Units from Maple Valley Fire & Life Safety, and the Duvall, Fall City and Snoqualmie fire departments also responded to the blaze.

Firefighters called in additional water tankers to the scene to shuttle water to the property — a secluded spot at the southernmost tip of 293rd Avenue Southeast.

But temperatures in the 20s meant water turned to ice on the road and other paved surfaces, creating another challenge for firefighters.

The narrow road conditions also posed a problem for the vehicles attempting to reach the blaze, so fire trucks and other vehicles used road shoulders and neighbors’ lawns.

King County property records list the affected homeowners as Phillip and Patty Kropelnicki.

Only a smoking ruin remained the day after the blaze. Flowerpots still sat on a ledge left untouched by flames and firefighting near a knee-high St. Francis of Assisi statue.

Stubborn snow clung to the ground beneath shrubs along the driveway and deep ruts crisscrossed the grass — a remnant from the equipment used to battle the blaze in the predawn darkness.

The homeowners could not be reached for comment.

Neighbors Fred and Michelle Cohen live down the hill from the Kropelnickis’ property and looked on as fire trucks roared through the quiet neighborhood.

“It was very scary because there are no fire hydrants out here,” Michelle Cohen said the afternoon after the blaze.

The modern King County building code requires a sprinkler system in homes not adequately served by a hydrant system or road access. The house destroyed in the blaze — built in 1966 — came from a period before officials required residential sprinkler systems.

Michelle Cohen said the tight-knit neighborhood and the Kropelnickis’ church congregation pulled together to help the family after the fire.

Firefighters called a King County fire investigator to the scene. The blaze remains under investigation. Officials couldn’t provide a cause or the total damages the day after the fire.

Neighbors said the situation could have been much worse along the street if the conditions had changed amid the blaze.

“There was no wind last night, so we’re all very blessed,” Michelle Cohen said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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