P.J. Farrell had a lot to look forward to on Christmas morning. Getting home, waking up his kids, seeing the excitement wash away the tired in their eyes, and watching as they opened the tightly wrapped presents underneath the family tree.
But instead, at about 5 a.m., as he was finishing up his shift as a part-time newspaper courier for The Spokesman-Review, he got a phone call from his wife, Melinda: The house is on fire, come home now.
“My wife, for some reason, she woke up to what sounded like somebody pounding on the door,” Farrell said. “And the door flew open, and there were the firefighters.”
Spokane Fire Department firefighters were called to the home at 1311 E. Baldwin Ave. after a police officer apparently noticed flames shooting from the east side of the Farrell home, which was built in 1898.
Paul Farrell, P.J.’s father and next door neighbor, said the fire started in a section of the wall near the fireplace – where hours earlier on Christmas Eve a fire was made. He and others said the fire was long out before everyone crawled into bed for the night.
As firefighters arrived, they quickly got to work on the side of the house, digging at the structure and dousing it with water. After everything settled, the outside of the home would look mostly unchanged, save for a large hole and charred wood with sections of chimney visible. The inside wasn’t so lucky.
Paul Farrell took the time to survey the damage and even planned to get to work later in the afternoon, cutting old wires and stripping burned wood before patching it all up.
“Everything is smoke-damaged,” he said. “We gotta completely replace the couch and stuff. I’ve gotta get in there and start.”
The retired 65-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, who served in the Vietnam War, said he’s dealt with this before – once when his own house burned down in 2006 on West Gardner Avenue, and several times thereafter as a certified fire and flood technician.
“It needs work but we don’t have money or credit or anything else. But I’ve got enough building materials,” he said.
With nowhere else to go Christmas morning, P.J. and Melinda Farrell took their children – ages 7, 8, 10 and 12 – to Melinda’s parents in Colville for the night. After that, they’re not sure where else to go.
While there was still much to do before the Farrells could house their temporarily displaced family, they both made a point to count their blessings. Notably, the sharp eye of the police officer who noticed the fire, the quick work by firefighters to save the home, the $50 gift certificate they gave the family before packing up and leaving, and the fact that their family’s Christmas tree made it out unscathed along with most of the presents.
“We got lucky,” Paul Farrell said. “We got very lucky. We feel very fortunate we didn’t lose everything.”
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