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Blaze adds to family’s struggle

Wed., Dec. 8, 2004

Gabrielle Thomas struggled for breath between sobs Tuesday as she watched flames consume her family’s home of 21 years.

“I was hoping nothing else bad would happen until the new year,” she said.

Gabrielle Thomas has had two surgeries since March, including one that nearly killed her. Her husband, William Thomas, just returned to work after heart surgery. And her daughter recently was involved in a collision that totaled her car.

Then came the fire that destroyed the mobile home at 11515 N. Craig Road. The home was not insured.

“My cats and a couple of dogs are in there. I hope they are not suffering,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Nearby, fire crews provided oxygen to her daughter, Gisela, 27, who suffered smoke inhalation when she tried to rescue the family pets.

“She shouldn’t have done that,” Gabrielle Thomas said. “It’s not worth her life.”

A passer-by reported heavy smoke coming from the Thomas’ home at 9:48 a.m.

Gisela Thomas said she arrived home before firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke coming from the roof. She knew several pets were inside.

“I opened the door and inhaled a bunch of smoke,” she said. She was taken to Holy Family Hospital as a precaution.

Three dogs and four cats were stuck in the house, Gisela Thomas said. “Only a couple dogs made it out.” At least one cat survived, too.

The family pets were home alone at the time of the fire, she said.

“At first I thought just the stove room was on fire. But I realized that the whole house was on fire. I was just hoping that the dogs were next to the door.”

Before fire crews arrived, two passers-by moved several caged rabbits to safety.

A flock of the family’s geese meandered on Craig Road and honked as firefighters scrambled to get hoses to the fire. The family’s five horses ran circles around their fenced enclosure.

“When the first company arrived, the mobile home was half involved,” said Capt. Jack Cates, of Spokane County Fire District 9. “The fire was more toward the center of the trailer, but the fire progressed from there.”

Several small explosions, from burning ammunition and from aerosol cans, could be heard as the fire burned. The blaze fell within the boundary of Fire District 5, but Districts 9 and 10 also responded, said Rod Heimbigner, deputy chief of District 10.

Someone reached Gabrielle Thomas, 48, who was shopping at a grocery store, to let her know the home was on fire. She left the house at 8 p.m. Monday for her night shift. Her husband left for his job in Coeur d’Alene at 4 a.m. Tuesday, she said.

When Gabrielle Thomas arrived, she wept so hard that Heimbigner asked if she needed oxygen.

Cates said he didn’t know what caused the fire. The home was heated by a wood stove, which will be the first thing fire investigators will look at, Cates said.

“We’ve contacted the Red Cross for the family,” he said.

Dori Russell, who has worked with Gabrielle Thomas for the past 12 years, said the pets are considered part of the Thomas family. Gabrielle Thomas always brings a dog to work.

“This is going to be extremely hard for them,” Russell said. “They have absolutely nothing now.”


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