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Seven Killed in Elderly Home Fire

April 28, 1998

ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) _ A late-night fire possibly caused by a cigarette sent smoke pouring through a home for the elderly, killing seven people and critically injuring another.

The fire at Arlington Manor was reported about 11 p.m. Monday. It was confined to a small area and extinguished quickly, but smoke filled the three-story, wood-frame building, Assistant Fire Chief Mike Koontz said.

Most of the building had filled with hot gas and black smoke by the time firefighters arrived, he said. ``This is just what we hope never happens _ a fire in an old folks’ home.″

Five of the home’s 32 residents were found dead at the home overnight. A sixth body was found this morning, and critically injured woman died today at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

At least 24 other people were taken to hospitals, including one other woman in critical condition at Harborview. Of the others, 22 were treated or checked for smoke inhalation and released; one suffered a broken ankle.

``One of the ladies in the kitchen came up and started hollering Fire! Get out! Get out!‴ Gene Oakley, a resident at the home, told Seattle’s KIRO-TV.

``I didn’t have time to get scared, really,″ he said. ``I thought all the way out, my God, I should be down on my knees crawling with all this smoke, but somebody was pulling me too fast.″

Mayor Bob Kraski said today that residents of the home had access to cigarettes and apparently were smoking inside, despite rules against it. All signs point to smoking as the cause, Kraski said.

``They had been smoking in rooms, probably in beds ... almost every room,″ Kraski said after touring the building with fire officials. A fire door was found propped open, too, he said.

Kraski said the blaze was discovered when a staff member opened a first-floor room and found it engulfed in flames. All she could do was flee and call 911; all three people who lived in the room died. The room was next to the staircase leading to the second floor, and the flames quickly spread, the mayor said.

A neighbor, Pat Evans, said women who work at the center told her they had just come on duty when they noticed the fire.

``They ran upstairs and began pulling people out of bed,″ she said. ``The smoke was just following them up the stairs.″

The home’s residents are for the most part ambulatory. Mrs. Evans said three residents used wheelchairs.

Fire Capt. Dean Olsen Jr. said the building was built in 1908. It served as a hospital until 1959, when it was remodeled as an assisted-living center. It had been remodeled a couple of times since then, but not recently enough to require sprinklers under newer building codes, he said.

The center is owned by Jora Inc., whose president is John Rathjen of Bakersfield, Calif., said Dave Duskin, an Arlington attorney who represents the company. Rathjen has an unlisted number and could not immediately be reached for comment; Duskin said he hadn’t reached him this morning, either.

The Red Cross was helping residents find other lodging.

Mrs. Evans said she and her husband, Harry, invited residents into their home while they awaited transport to hospitals. Some had lived in the center for more than 25 years, she said.

Most were quiet and some had a ``silent tear″ pass down their cheeks, she said. The family dog helped comfort some people, she said.

``We passed the dog around so they could pat the little dog, and that helped,″ she said.

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