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Large family has little left after fire

Couple were raising, schooling eight kids in their north Spokane County home

Chad and Kayla Stewart stood outside their gutted Spokane County home Monday trying to figure out how they will piece their lives back together.

The Stewarts, who are raising eight children, said that when they arrived home from church on Sunday, they saw smoke coming from their split-level house on Panorama Road overlooking the Little Spokane River valley.

“We had our church clothes on,” said Chad Stewart.

A neighbor who saw the smoke had already called firefighters, got two dogs out alive and was waiting for the trucks to show up. A cat was still missing Monday.

“They are lucky it didn’t happen four hours sooner. They wouldn’t have made it,” said Larry Hansel, uncle of Kayla Stewart.

Four of the couple’s eight children are brothers adopted from a family in strife-torn Liberia in western Africa.

Nearly all of the family’s belongings were destroyed, including two pianos. However, Chad Stewart retrieved his computer, which he uses in his job as an animator, he said. Legal papers in a fire safe and photographs were also recovered.

The Stewarts moved into the 1969-built home more than two years ago and were schooling their children there.

The adopted children’s mother died giving birth to twins Mark and Matthew, now age 9. The Stewarts later adopted their brothers, Peter, 10, and Blessing, 12. Their biological father remains in contact with them by telephone and e-mail.

The Stewarts adopted the children as a way to act on their faith, Stewart said. “We are Christians and we wanted to honor that because God has adopted us,” he said.

The couple also have four daughters – Megyn, 9, Sidny, 11, Taryn, 12, and Aubry, 14.

The Stewarts are hoping to rent a nearby home and plan to acquire replacement furnishings and clothing while their burned-out house is rebuilt.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but Hansel said that an electrical problem is a possibility.

The fire rekindled early Monday after a hidden hot spot in the roof continued to burn. The home was considered a near total loss Sunday, and the rekindled fire in the roof added to the damage, which is insured.

Thermal imaging equipment failed to detect the hot spot when firefighters thought they had the blaze extinguished Sunday. Insulation apparently shielded the hot spot from the infrared detection, said Pat Humphries, public information officer for Fire District No. 4.

One firefighter fell to his waist after entering the home during the initial fire on Sunday and dropped into a collapsing portion of the floor, Humphries said. The firefighter was not injured.

Ten other people were burned out of their homes in Spokane on Saturday and Monday.

An apartment fire early Monday gutted two units at 3004 N. Crestline St., displacing three residents in those units, fire officials said.

Firefighters were trying to determine a cause of the 12:40 a.m. fire that required two alarms because of the volume of smoke coming from the building initially.

Fire officials said that all of the residents were evacuated without injury and that the fire was brought under control in about 20 minutes.

One firefighter suffered a shoulder injury while working to ventilate heat and smoke through the roof.

Two other house fires occurred Saturday, including one at 2311 N. Stevens St. about 11 a.m. that was caused by a space heater used to prevent water pipes from freezing in the basement. Two occupants there were being helped by the Red Cross, said spokeswoman Megan Snow.

The other Saturday fire displaced a family of five at 1712 W. Nora Ave. The cause was under investigation.

The Inland Northwest Chapter of the American Red Cross is helping the fire victims with temporary shelter, food and clothing. The agency accepts donations for fire victims through or by calling (509) 326-3330.