Two children under the age of 5 died in a house fire on Third Street in Cle Elum Friday afternoon. The mother of the two boys received non-life threatening injuries and was transported to KVH Hospital in Ellensburg, said Kittitas County Fire District 7 Public Information Officer Richelle Risdon.
Risdon did not know the exact age of the two boys.
Cle Elum-Roslyn-South Cle Elum Police Chief Scott Ferguson said the department received a report of a structure fire with people trapped inside at 12:14 p.m. Ferguson said when the first units arrived on scene about a minute after the initial report, the fire had consumed the house.
“Upon our arrival, the house was fully engulfed in smoke,” Ferguson said. “Heavy, black smoke.”
Ferguson said officers from the police department, Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office and the Forest Service made attempts to enter the burning house unsuccessfully.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “we were turned away by heavy toxic smoke.”
Officials are waiting to release the names of the victims. Kittitas County Fire Marshal Brenda Larsen was investigating the scene Friday night. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
“It’s too premature for that right now,” Ferguson said. “I just don’t want to release anything until I get absolute confirmation.”
Shortly after the fire ignited, a massive plume of dark smoke lofted into the air. Within minutes, friends, family and neighbors arrived on the scene to watch crews extinguish the flames.
Next-door neighbor Hannah Rowley said she left the house to pick up her daughter Friday afternoon, and when she got back home, her neighbor’s house was on fire and police and firefighters were lined up on her street. Rowley said she watched not knowing the health of her neighbors — who she knows fairly well — or whether her own house was in danger.
“They were spraying the other house (on the other side of the fire), just in case the fire spread,” Rowley said. “But nothing came over our fence.”
Many community members arrived on the scene to console the family of the victims, including Cle Elum Community Church Pastor Worth Wilson, who said he knows the family. Wilson said a number of people from his church have offered to provide assistance to the grieving family, but he said the most important thing for the church to do right in this situation is to let the family know they are not alone.
“They’ve lost everything,” Wilson said. “(The church will) let them know they are loved and cared for.”
Risdon said the Kittitas County Chapter of the American Red Cross is assisting the family.
“All of us are just heartbroken,” Risdon said. “Everybody on scene.”
She said it’s been a tragic few days in the Upper County.
“Three little kids in just three days,” Risdon said, referring to the death of 7-year-old Clayton Everley, a Roslyn boy who died after a pile of sand collapsed on him at his home Wednesday.
Father Brooks Beaulaurier of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church also was at the scene of the Cle Elum house to offer assistance. Beaulaurier said there’s not much anyone can say to lessen the impact of a tragic event like the fire, which is why he said it’s so important to just be there for the family during these trying times.
“There’s not a lot of need to talk or chat, you just have to be with them,” Beaulaurier said. “You try to help them stay in the moment and know they have support.”
Risdon said the house is still standing but destroyed. Firefighters from the Cle Elum Volunteer Fire Department, Kittitas County Fire District 7 and District 6, Cle Elum police, the sheriff’s office, the Forest Service, a county coroner, the fire marshal and a chaplain with the Washington State Patrol responded to the scene.