By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

Dogs leap to safety from burning apartment

Dan Belderrain/McMinnville Fire Department
A pit bull mix dog escapes an apartment fire by jumping from the second story.
Dan Belderrain/McMinnville Fire Department
An unattended cooking unit sparked a blaze that torched this apartment. Four units sustained damage.

One upstairs residence at the Brockwood Village Apartments, 730 S.W. Brockwood Ave., was heavily damaged in the blaze. Three others sustained lesser damage.

The fire broke out in unit No. 12 shortly after 6 p.m. Resident Arvan Sells, 26, was at work as a cook in the kitchen of a local restaurant, and his wife, Jessi, 24, was at work at a local adult foster care facility.

A friend was babysitting their 3-year-old daughter, Marlee. They were downstairs at the time, trying to beat the heat.

The couple's two pit bull mix dogs suffered significant burns, some of them severe, before leaping from the balcony. They darted off, but had tags enabling Yamhill County Dog Control to identify them and pick them up.

Simba, a male, is now up and walking, although painfully. Brandy, a female, whose legs are badly burned, is not yet mobile.

Both dogs are expected to make a full recovery, but will require extensive and expensive care for an extended period. The Sells, who are uninsured, lack the means to cover the cost.

They have had the dogs about six years. They also had two snakes, which perished.

They lost all of their possessions. Joseph Harner, fiancé of Jessi's mother, Dene Patterson, said, "They are a young couple just trying to survive."

The Cascade Region Branch of the American Red Cross is assisting the occupants of all four units — six adults and the one child — with clothing, food, lodging and other support services.

The Sells family is is staying with friends for the time being, Harner and Patterson said. A fund to assist the trio in getting back on their feet had been set up at Wells Fargo Bank.

The blaze was blamed on unattended cooking in the apartment. Fire Chief Rich Leipfert said the babysitter had left french fries on a hot plate next to the stove, and returned to find the unit ablaze.

"Unattended cooking is one of the biggest causes of residential fires," Leipfert said. "When you're cooking something — especially frying something, as was the case here — make sure you stay in or near the kitchen at all times."

Artist Curt Chiarelli had just moved into an apartment downstairs on Sept. 1. He had left the Currents Gallery to run some errands, then walked home.

"I came back and this had happened," Chiarelli said. "I was walking along Baker Street, and fire trucks were whizzing by. You know how you start thinking, 'I hope it's not my place.'

"As I was walking down Edumnston Street, people were running by saying, 'The Brockwood Apartments are on fire, the Brockwood Apartments are on fire.' I ran the rest of the way."

He called the incident a "disaster" for the displaced residents. He said he feels sorry for them because he doesn't believe many people in the complex have renter's insurance.

Resident Jered Longley said his wife spotted smoke, then he noticed it, too. He said he retrieved a fire extinguisher from the laundry room and headed into the Sellses' apartment.

"I wanted to try and do something," Longley said. "But I heard something explode and I got out. The flames were spreading quickly."

Karen Daniel said someone knocked on her door, telling her there was a fire. She also heard the explosion.

She said two dogs jumped from the balcony and ran off. She said her heart was racing.

Six units from Amity and McMinnville responded with about 40 firefighters. By about 6:40 p.m., they had the flames out and were beginning to mop up.

"The firefighters did a good job," Leipfert said. "They first applied a large water stream from the exterior into the kitchen area, and the crawlspace that leads to the attic. That kept the fire from spreading.

"Our concern, with older construction like this, is that there may not be as many fire stops built into the structure. A fire can spread though a crawlspace and go the length of the building. It can spread fast."

When the first team arrived, flames were shooting up from the windows, door, eaves and roof. Smoke was boiling out so fast and rising so high it could be seen for blocks.

Fire damage was largely contained to the Sellses' unit, though an adjancet unit on the east side of the complex also sustained some damage. Those two units also sustained water damage, as did their two ground-floor counterparts.

Names of the other affected occupants were not immediately available.

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