Residents of burned building look for new homes

Accidental fire last Tuesday was started by a cooking accident



Members of the Pullman Fire Department stand outside the four-tenant apartment on Maple Street that burned down last Tuesday.

CARMEN JARAMILLO, Evergreen reporter

Residents of the Maple Street apartment that burned down last week are trying to pick up the pieces as they move from hotel to hotel, still looking for a permanent place to live. The residents are devastated in the loss of their possessions but also in the loss of the home and family they built as friendly neighbors.

The four-tenant apartment, owned and operated by the Community Action Center, was the location of an accidental fire last Tuesday which caused $100,000 of property damage and has made the apartment unlivable due to fire, smoke and water damage.

Talia Salter, a single mother of three daughters, was driving home from Colfax on Tuesday afternoon when she received a frantic phone call from her neighbor Amy Ann Davis.

The house was on fire but everyone was unharmed, including Salter’s 11-month-old daughter who was being babysat while Salter was at work and her other daughters at school.

The fire started in the downstairs apartment when Victor Chatman was making jalapeno poppers. He said he thought the stove was on medium when he went to the bathroom, but when he came back the room filled with smoke.

He ran upstairs to warn Davis, who wasn’t home. Her younger sister Taylor Ward was there babysitting Salter’s 11-month-old, with Davis’s 17-year-old son Silas Davis also home.

After warning his neighbors Chatman ran next door to Palouse River Counseling where he got help calling emergency responders.

By the time Chatman returned with a fire extinguisher from Palouse River Counseling, the basement was already engulfed in flames, he said.

His two cats Maxima and Klutz were both killed in the fire.

Chatman said inspectors from the Community Action Center had been to his property the same day as the fire and identified the smoke detector was not working. There was a fire extinguisher located on the outside of the building, but Chatman said he didn’t have anything to break the protective glass with.

Davis was driving home from Moscow, where she had taken her mother, who lives with her, to a doctor’s appointment.

She had called her sister as they left Moscow to let her know they were on their way back. Not even 10 minutes after hanging up Ward called back saying the house was on fire.

Davis told her to get out and to get Salter’s dog, Bandit, who was home alone in the adjacent apartment, out.

When Salter pulled up to her home, now with the whole block closed off to traffic, she couldn’t believe it.

“My whole life is in that house,” Salter said. “All I could think was ‘everything is in there’ — my daughters’ birth certificates, Social Security cards, pictures, everything.”

The residents were put up in the Quality Inn until Friday when they were moved to The State Inn by the Community Action Center.

Salter said WSU’s football weekend had made it hard for them to find a place to stay.

Residents still don’t know when they will have a permanent home. It is almost certain they will be split up from each other, Salter said.

Davis said she and her family may have to stay in hotels through the end of the month.

“I love this little house, I had awesome neighbors. It was everything that we always wanted,” Davis said. “Everyone had their own rooms and space. Now we don’t have any of that.”

The majority of Davis’ possessions, she said, were damaged by the fire, with Salter’s home suffering mostly smoke and water damage.

“My entire life is in a plastic bucket,” she said.

The residents said they have been overwhelmed with support from the community, but they are not yet accepting donations of furniture or other large items because without a permanent home they have no place to store things nor are they sure what they will need.

Chatman said he’s sorry to his neighbors, because he feels like they lost their houses because of him.

“If I had gotten out of the bathroom quicker, the fire wouldn’t have started,” Chatman said, “and we’d still be here, like a happy family, because we built up a family here.”