2 Tacoma families narrowly escape house fire; fireworks blamed

TACOMA, Wash.-- Two families on Tuesday were sifting through their charred belongings hours after a house fire gutted their duplex in the Hilltop neighborhood.

The blaze that firefighters say was likely caused by fireworks had the residents scrambling for their lives in the middle of the night.

The fire started in the back of the house between midnight and 1 a.m. Tuesday. Those inside at the time say the flames raced up the back of the building both on the outside and inside the interior walls.

"Yeah, this is the kitchen," said Frankie Wallace. "Well, (it) was the kitchen."

Wallace says there's nothing left in the entire back half of their duplex.  He's very grateful that it wasn't worse.

"Definitely grateful that nobody got hurt," Wallace said. "Cause I think 10-15 minutes later (the kids) would have been sound asleep. We might not have been so fortunate."

Wallace and his family live on the lower floor of the duplex, and he says a father and son who own a landscaping business live upstairs. All made it out safely.

The fire started just after midnight and the Tacoma Fire Department thinks fireworks are to blame.  Wallace says he watched them battle the flames for hours until almost dawn. He says he was surprised by how frightening it all was, especially the first few minutes.

"I just saw the flames that the propane tanks underneath started blowing up six of them under there," Wallace said.

The interior of Wallace's unit reeks of smoke and it seems there's barely a surface that wasn't affected by the smoke or heat,  including the blinds, which sit drooping in the middle of every window after having melted in the intense heat.

"That's how hot the smoke was," he said.

This is the second fire in Tacoma this week believed to be caused by fireworks. Fireworks are illegal in the city of Tacoma.

"If you don't use fireworks, there's zero chance you can light your own or someone else's place on fire -- or get injured," Capt. Kyle Ohashi with Puget Sound Fire said, adding that the Independence Day holiday is the busiest time of year for firefighters.

"When you have a fire or you cause a fire in a home, you’re not just causing property damage, you’re destroying people’s lives. You’re destroying things in a home that are invaluable to that family," Ohashi said.

Luckily, for Frankie Wallace and his family, they were able to save some personal items.

"So far we have a box of pictures, so that's good. Both our daughters had birthdays so all their presents were all good. That made them happy."

And Wallace's word of warning to others who might light off illegal fireworks:

"Don't," he said. "Unless you're in a safe area, you know a designated area. This could happen in the blink of an eye. Everything's gone."

Wallace said they're trying to stay positive about this incident and look forward.

Tacoma fire investigators still don't know who was lighting off fireworks in that part of the Hilltop neighborhood. They're asking anyone who saw something to call them.

Ohashi says if you see someone lighting off illegal fireworks in your neighborhood on the 4th of July, consider it an emergency and call 9-1-1.