A 9-year-old girl died Sunday after she and a playmate were trapped, unknown to fire crews, in the basement of a burning house in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood.
The children may have been in the smoke-filled basement for as long as 15 minutes while thick flames gutted the home at W1918 Shannon, according to official and eyewitness accounts.
The 9-year-old died from smoke inhalation early in the afternoon at Sacred Heart Medical Center, Spokane fire officials said.
Her friend, 10, was treated at Deaconess Medical Center and the Fairchild Air Force Base Hospital, then returned to Deaconess, where she was listed in critical condition late Sunday.
Neighbor Sharane Merial-Judith said the surviving girl was treated for smoke inhalation at Fairchild.
They had her on “a machine that forces oxygen into your lungs,” said Merial-Judith, who knows both girls and their families.
Neither girl lived at the house, Merial-Judith said. One of the victims was the daughter of a man who dates the woman who lives there. The other girl lived nearby.
The two victims were friends, she added, and often met at the house to play.
Authorities and Merial-Judith refused to identify the victims, or which one died, because not all family members had been notified of the accident.
The fire broke out in the pale green house just before noon, neighbors said.
LaRae Sattler, who lives next door, said the surviving girl’s father knocked on her door pleading for help, and she called 911 to report the fire.
“We came outside, and the whole place was engulfed,” said her husband, Craig Sattler. “Fire was coming out of all the windows and doors.”
Firefighters from the nearest station, at Ash and Indiana, were battling a garage fire at W2207 Mission, so the first crew didn’t arrive on Shannon until 10 minutes later, said Bobby Williams, city fire chief.
“We had a little delay in getting here,” Williams said.
When firefighters did get to the scene, they were under the impression that the house was empty, Williams said. A caller to 911 told the dispatcher no one was in the home, he said.
It was another five minutes before the father of the surviving girl said the kids might be in the basement, Williams said.
“We had conflicting stories,” he said.
Merial-Judith said the confusion was understandable. The two girls and other kids from the area came and went from the house often.
The woman who lives in the home has three kids of her own, Merial-Judith said. The woman’s two little sons were playing upstairs when the fire began but got out of the house safely, the neighbor added.
“This is a very close neighborhood,” Merial-Judith said. “People come and go and come and go. It was an ordinary circumstance.”
Fire officials believe one of the boys started the fire while playing with a cigarette lighter, said Garry Miller, fire marshal.
When the firefighters tried to rescue the girls, they were hampered by the intense flames and smoke, Williams said. They had a hard time reaching the only door to the basement, which was in the kitchen, he said.
Once firefighters got the girls out, ambulances immediately took them to hospitals, Williams said.
“I was shocked that they brought people out. I didn’t know they had anybody else in there,” LaRae Sattler said.