Five members of a Russian family died in a fire early Friday, less than a year after they fled their native country to begin a new life in Spokane.
The blaze destroyed a two-story home in Bellingham, where Vyacheslav and Yelena Solodyankin were visiting relatives. A child who lived at the house also was killed.
The couple had arrived there Thursday evening with five of their eight children to celebrate a cousin’s 15th birthday.
Solodyankin, 36, and his wife, 35, died in the fire, which began shortly before 2 a.m. Three of their children, Valeria, 14, Vyacheslav Jr., 6, and Alina, 1, also died.
Two others, Ivan, 4, and his sister Olena, 12, were treated at St. Joseph Hospital for smoke inhalation and minor burns, a spokeswoman said.
Solodyankin, 1927 E. Bridgeport, died trying to save his family, officials said. The former machinist from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, escaped the fire at first, but used a ladder to reach a second-floor window to get back inside.
“He was a true believer,” said Ivan Skrobko, a pastor at Solodyankin’s church in north Spokane. “He raised his family the same way. Honest. Loving God.”
The cause of the fire was not known, although investigators poked through piles of charred rubble at the scene throughout the day. The only recognizable item left in the home was a burned ironing board.
Fire officials speculated that the blaze may have been started by a fireplace spark that landed on a nearby sofa.
Fourteen people were sleeping in the house when the fire began.
It is unclear whether the house was equipped with a working smoke alarm, a Bellingham Fire Department official said. He doubted the residents had insurance.
“I’m sure the concept (of insurance) was completely out of reach to these people,” said David Hammers, medical services examiner.
Two of the eight survivors included Solodyankin’s brother, Sergey, and his wife, Olga. Both suffered secondand third-degree burns and were listed in satisfactory condition in the hospital’s burn unit.
The couple moved to the West Side from Spokane two years ago, after Sergey had trouble finding work and Olga complained of having bad allergies here.
They rented the home on Meridian Street in Bellingham and Sergey started his own business installing linoleum tile and marble flooring.
One of their children, 8-year-old Nadia, also died in the fire. Four others were treated and released to a local minister at the family’s church.
Solodyankin went to his brother’s house in Bellingham for the birthday party, but secretly was hoping to convince him to move back to Spokane, family members said.
“He wanted them all to be together,” Pastor Skrobko said. “This was how he was.”
Skrobko gathered with nearly 30 of the victims’ relatives and friends in the Spokane home of another Solodyankin brother Friday. They flipped through piles of family photographs, crying softly as the pastor recalled Solodyankin’s religious dedication.
In Kyrgyzstan, Solodyankin supervised the construction of a biblical college before moving to the United States, Skrobko said.
Once in Spokane, he joined the Light of the Gospel Church in the West Central neighborhood and became a deacon there. The church is one of seven Russian language churches in the city.
“He always helped make the church nicer,” Skrobko said.
Three of Solodyankin’s children didn’t make the trip to Bellingham because the family’s car was too small. Timofey, 11, Olesya, 9, and Tatyana, 8, sat quietly with their grandmother as they waited for more news about the deaths.
Relatives were confused most of the day about which family members had died. They relied on interpreters and Red Cross members for information, but did not have the phone number for the hospital in Bellingham.
By afternoon, they mistakenly believed all five children had died in the fire.
“Information is coming slowly,” an interpreter said. “We do not know everything yet.”
A refugee worker eventually arrived at the home and told the family otherwise.
Sergey Solodyankin lost another home to fire when he lived in Spokane in 1992. One of his sons, then 13, tried to make french fries one Saturday morning and forgot about the oil he poured into a hot pan on the stove.
When he returned to the kitchen, it was in flames.
No one was injured, but Sergey Solodyankin’s home at 5028 E. Commerce was destroyed. The fire occurred two years after he arrived in Spokane.
“I started with nothing, so it is no problem for me,” he said then.
Matvey Finkel, a language and cultural instructor at Whitworth College, served as an interpreter for this report.
DONATIONS Donations for the five Solodyankin children whose parents and three siblings died in a house fire Friday are being collected at all U.S. Bank branches. The American Red Cross, which is helping the family, also is collecting donations for its disaster relief fund. Donations to Red Cross may be mailed to 315 W. Nora, Spokane, 99205.
This sidebar also appeared with the story: 6 DEAD, 8 HURT Members of the Spokane family: Dead: Vyacheslav Solodyankin, 36, and wife Yelena, 35; Valeria, 14; Vyacheslav Jr., 6; Alina, 1. Injured: Olena, 12; Ivan, 4.
Members of the Bellingham family: Dead: Nadia Solodyankin, 8. Injured: Sergey Solodyankin, 38, and wife Olga, 35.; Oleg, 10; Tatyana, 12; Sergey Jr., 15; Alex, 16.