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For North Bend family, flames claim a house, but not a home
There is no logic to what did and didn’t survive the devastating house fire that destroyed John and Freida Perazzo’s North Bend home Jan. 25. John’s half-melted driver’s license was found where it landed outside the next day, and Freida recovered a few bank cards, but the rest of his wallet was gone.
“He thought he lost his glasses,” said Freida, “but they found them out in the yard.”
Together, the couple and their granddaughter Latasha saved John’s brother Ronald from the fire, each of them dragging the disabled man part of the way to the front door, where volunteer firefighter Kevin Nolet took over.
But they lost nearly everything in the fire, including the sense of stability that came from living in the house for more than 50 years.
Four days after the fire, the Perazzos, staying with another granddaughter in North Bend, were trying to take care of everything and everyone at once, from handling insurance claims, and scheduling a visit to Ronald, still in the hospital with significant burns, to calling bill collectors and making sure to thank the many people who’d already helped them and had offered help.
“It’s a great community, I’ll tell you that,” said John, midway through explaining how they’ll need to find a rental home in the short term while they rebuild.
“The Mayor was at Ace when I went there to get a pair of slippers,” said Freida, “and he bought ‘em for me.”
A minute later she remembers something else she has to do. “I’ve still got to call Puget Power, because the water heaters were gas, and we had the gas dryers.”
The fire, which was reported around 9:13 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, was determined to be an accident.
Investigator Todd Legg with the King County Fire Investigation Unit said, “it looked like an electrical event,” likely caused by the motor on Ronald’s hospital bed.
When it started, most of the family was in bed, except Latasha, living in a neighboring camper on the couple’s two-acre lot. She noticed the smoke first and came running over, John said, thinking something had been forgotten in the oven.
He smelled smoke, too, and then smoke alarms started going off. He said he got up to check things out and walked past at least one fire extinguisher on his way through the house.
“I don’t know why I didn’t grab one of those extinguishers,” he said.
First, he checked on Ronald, and found that his bed was on fire. John hauled Ronald off the bed, then Latasha began dragging him to the door.
“For a 23-year-old girl — and she’s only 115 pounds — she kept trying to drag my brother,” John said, pride in his voice.
Freida dragged Ronald into the hallway and toward the door, where Nolet almost stepped on him as he came onto the scene. He lived just blocks away, and had passed the home on his way to the station, when he saw the flames and turned back.
“At that point, the smoke was in a thick black cloud, about a foot off the ceiling,” Nolet said. He didn’t notice Ronald at first, because he could see flames in the house, smoke rolling out and two people inside who needed to be evacuated.
Freida told him Ronald couldn’t walk, so Nolet, still in street clothes, said “OK, I can handle that!” and grabbed him under the shoulders, dragging him out to the street, and into a waiting car.
Afterward, Nolet said the whole thing happened so fast he didn’t think he’d even spoken to Ronald, which he regretted. He also felt that his part in the rescue was minimal, compared to what Latasha had done.
“She’s the one who, under extreme stress and without training, got him out of that room,” he said, “and I hope she gets some recognition for it.”
Saving the pets
By the time Nolet had Ronald secured, he saw that John had gone back into the house, to rescue his nine dogs. Latasha had already rescued four puppies from one of the rooms, John recalled. When Nolet reached John again, he said flames were rolling out of the bedroom onto the ceiling.
They both left the home and Nolet was relieved to see the lights of the first engine arriving on the scene. He then assisted wherever he could, including rescuing those dogs.
Nolet said he saw John walking to the back of the house, and went to investigate. He found members of the Snoqualmie Fire Department planning an entry into a back window.
“He said ‘we’re seeing dogs jump up at the window,’” Nolet said, and they needed a ladder. Since the family’s ladder was handy, they used that to break the window and get access.
One firefighter climbed inside and began handing dogs out to Nolet, on the ladder. He handed them down to the next firefighter until all but one dog was out. This dog, a feisty, healthy little dachshund, continually ran away from his rescuer, as the room filled with smoke.
Nolet laughs as he recalls the chase, which took so long the firefighter inside was told to leave the dog before endangering himself. All Nolet could see in the smoke was the man’s light, and he could hear the dog barking, he said. Suddenly, though, he saw a mattress get flung up against the wall, followed by the boxspring, and soon, the firefighter handed out the reluctant rescue and came out himself.
One of the trapped dogs didn’t survive the smoke inhalation, and another has since gone missing, along with two cats, but most of the Perazzo’s pets were safe that night.
John also suffered smoke inhalation and spent one night at the hospital. Freida spent that night at her granddaughter’s because the fire spread so quickly, the home was a total loss.
“He (the battalion chief) said it got to the roof and they couldn’t control it,” she said. “He said we’re going to have to let it burn.”
Because the fire spread so quickly, firefighters shifted their approach to containing it. They also brought in lots of reinforcements, from Snoqualmie and Fall City, 13 units in all.
“It got to the point where we had depleted the Valley,” Nolet said. He and several other firefighters were sent back to the fire station, in case another call came in, and to wait for other orders.
Nolet has been a volunteer firefighter and EMT off and on for more than 20 years, starting in 1987. He also has a long professional career as a safety officer, and says he has to be ready for anything with every call.
The Perazzos are grateful for his helping Ronald, and for the many offers of help they’ve received. The entire family is alive, and mostly well, which is the important part, they say. John shrugs off his lost coin collection, and Freida is briefly wistful about the new clothes she’d given Latasha and her children for Christmas, and both wish that Latasha, going back to school, hadn’t lost her backpack and computer. But not for long.
“The thing I’m most upset about are my two kids’ photos,” said John, describing the portrait of him with his youngest daughter, Charlotte. She had Down’s Syndrome and died in her 30s. Their oldest son, Steven, was killed in a car accident at age 19.
They have a lot of memories here, and John says they aren’t going anywhere. “This is our home,” he said.
Freida flipping through a copy of last week’s newspaper as they talked, stops to point out a photo of several elk. “We used to see these in our back yard,” she said.
Efforts to help the Perazzo family are ongoing at the North Bend QFC and through Encompass. Currently, the family isn’t able to accept donations of clothing and household items, however, so anyone with items to donate should contact Stacey Cepeda at Encompass, (425)-888-2777, or firstname.lastname@example.org. QFC is also collecting donations of food for the family, at the store.
Long-time volunteer firefighter Kevin Nolet was first on the scene of the fire and helped rescue Ronald Perazzo from the burning home.