July 3, 2009 in City

Mom seriously injured in house fire

By The Spokesman-Review
Kate Williams photo

Fire engulfs the front end of a rental house on the 5400 block of east Commerce, July 2, 2009 in Spokane, Wash. Kate Williams, a neighbor from across the street, snapped the photo with her digital camera.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Map of this story's location

A 4-year-old playing with a lighter likely started a fire Friday morning that seriously injured his mother and destroyed their east Spokane home, a fire official said.

The woman, Tawnia Embree, woke up in a bedroom and saw smoke and felt intense heat, said Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer of the Spokane Fire Department.

The 29-year-old told fire investigators that she called out to her son, who had fled the home. Embree suffered burns and smoke inhalation as she escaped, Schaeffer said.

Embree was in serious condition Friday afternoon at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Roberta Taufen, Embree’s sister, said her nephew did not appear to have suffered serious injuries, but he was expected to spend the night in the hospital for observation.

Schaeffer stressed that sources of fire should be kept out of reach of children.

“They’re in that age of curiosity when curiosity rules,” Schaeffer said. “In this case, the consequences almost were lethal. We’re pretty lucky she’s still alive.”

Firefighters were called to the scene at 5408 E. Commerce Ave. about 8:40 a.m., Schaeffer said.

Embree, who manages the downtown Spokane Tesoro 2Go station, moved into the house a few weeks ago, said Richard Honnold, who rented the home to Embree.

Rocky Mattmiller, who was visiting a home across the street, said by the time he and neighbors knew about the fire, Embree had already emerged.

“Her face was covered with soot,” he said. “The whole front of the house was in flames.”

Neighbors assisted Embree until firefighters arrived and began treatment.

Crews received conflicting reports about other family members, and they searched the burning home four times until a Spokane Police chaplain confirmed that Embree’s daughter was staying with her grandmother at the time of the fire, said Battalion Chief Craig Cornelius.

Honnold said a passerby saved the family’s dog, a pug named Maggie, from the flames. Taufen said a longhaired Siamese cat, Maui, is missing.

The residence, which the county valued at about $79,000 not including the land, is a total loss, firefighters said. The structure, built in 1913, was insured, but Embree did not have renter’s insurance.

“She lost everything,” Honnold said.

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