Mother recalls devastating house fire
Fiance still being treated for burns in Seattle
Jessica Hammond remembers just about everything from Tuesday morning.
How they needed to escape the thick smoke, but her fiance couldn’t fit through the small window in their basement-level bedroom.
How the neighbors used a hose to contain the fire and pulled two of her children out of the house through windows.
How one of her sons hid from her when he heard the glass window break, and she had to leave the house without him.
But emotional trauma from that morning is on hold as the family works to heal its physical wounds.
Hammond, 22, and other family members traveled Tuesday to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, where her fiance, Shawn Apperson, 28, lies in the intensive care unit in critical condition with burns on 65 percent of his body – an upgrade from the original estimate of 80 percent.
Apperson was able to rescue Hammond and their 11-month-old baby, Ella, from their burning Hillyard home just before 7 a.m. Tuesday. Neighbors and the fire department rescued three other children from the home, as well as Apperson, who became trapped in the basement of the house while trying to save his family.
His father David Apperson said Shawn has already undergone surgery to save his eyesight, and more surgery on the burned skin tissue is expected today.
Hammond said Apperson has some movement in his extremities and is responding to questions, although he is unable to speak because of a breathing tube.
“He’s fighting really hard,” she said.
One of the children, 3-year-old Kaiden, is the only other family member still in the hospital. Hammond said the 3-year-old had his breathing tube removed Wednesday morning and is recovering from smoke inhalation at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
Fire Chief Bobby Williams said the cause of the fire was smoking materials that smoldered after a guest at the house left for work that morning.
The majority of the damage to the house is due to smoke, he said, but the fire blocked use of the stairs between the basement and the first floor, trapping Hammond, Apperson and Ella.
Hammond said she opened the door to investigate the smell of something burning and saw a wall of smoke and flames by the stairs.
“I got probably 10 feet from it and it just knocked me back and singed the whole left side of my body,” she said.
Apperson was able to break out the small bedroom window, but the smoke was thickening and breathing became more difficult.
“I don’t think either of us thought we’d be able to get out of the window,” Hammond said.
Apperson was able to help her and the baby get out, and then he tried to go up the stairs.
Outside the house, Hammond had to find a place to put her baby while she tried to rescue her other children. Ella kept crawling back toward the house, she said, and tried to go back through the window. She put the baby in the car until a neighbor showed up to take Ella across the street to safety.
Unable to get back into the house, all Hammond could do was scream for help. She could see her children’s faces in the windows but couldn’t get them to back away so she could break the glass. That’s when the neighbors came to the rescue.
One set of neighbors, a Cuban refugee couple and their three boys, came to kick in windows and doors. Still in their pajamas, they were able to coax the children away from the window and break through the glass, rescuing 5-year-old Lainey and 4-year-old Sam. The kids had minor cuts and burns.
Another set of neighbors pulled a garden hose around to the house and sprayed water through a back door at the stairs.
The fire chief said that likely helped Apperson, who crews found at the bottom of the stairs after locating Kaiden hiding in a hallway.
Williams said a firefighter didn’t know if Apperson was alive until he moved briefly when the firefighter threw him over his shoulder to carry him out of the house.
Fire investigators did not find smoke detectors in the house, he said, and the basement only had one exit. Because it was an older house, he said, it met previous fire code standards, but newer houses are required to have two exits from basements.
He said the house is not livable now but should be structurally stable enough to save and refurbish.
In the meantime, the family is working to gather clothes for the kids. Donations can be dropped off at Hammond’s mother’s home at 5314 N. Washington St.
A fund has been set up in the Apperson family’s name at Inland Northwest Bank.
Hammond, who met her fiance at church and now works with him at Chili’s at NorthTown Mall, said the outpouring of support – both moral and financial – has been extremely helpful for her and the kids.
“That’s probably going to end up being our Christmas for them,” she said.