Community rallies to help family in Useless Bay fire
July 14, 2009 · Updated 2:30 PM
Deja vu has spurred an effort to help a young couple who lost nearly all of their possessions in a house fire at Useless Bay on June 28.
Joshua Pitts, 27, and Amanda Townsend, 19, are currently living at her family home in Freeland, but their wedding will take place Sept. 12 as planned.
Townsend’s wedding dress was spared. It had been at her mother’s house at the time of the fire. All other wedding accessories were lost, Townsend said.
“This family just needs everything,” said Lisa Hanna of Langley. Hanna knows what it feels like, because the same thing happened to her 17 years ago.
Hanna has arranged for a storage unit to be available this weekend where donations for the couple will be collected until they find a new place to live.
The gutted house on Melendy Drive next to Highway 525 was to have been their first home together. It’s now a charred hulk.
Townsend had moved her furniture and other items into the house. Everything belonging to her and her 2-year-old son Gabriel were destroyed in the fire, including his favorite blanket and teddy bear, she said.
The couple lost their furniture, Pitts’ computers, televisions, kitchen items, clothing and even some money and paychecks, Townsend said. More troubling was the loss of keepsakes and photographs that had belonged to Pitts’ grandparents.
“We just finished putting together Gabriel’s big-boy room,” Townsend said. “It was going to be his first house. He asks about it all the time.”
“But we’re just talking about stuff,” Townsend added. “Nobody was hurt. We still have each other. We’re just lucky we weren’t inside.”
Townsend helps her mother, Laura Townsend of Freeland, run the aptly-named Second Chance thrift store in Freeland, so they were able to outfit Pitts with some emergency clothing and other items.
“We’re lucky we have our family,” Townsend said.
“That’s what family’s about,” her mother said. “They’ll be all right.”
Pitts has been on Whidbey Island about eight years, and for the past five has worked for Red Leaf Landscapes in Clinton. Townsend moved here two years ago.
Pitts and his brother Tom, 26, had been living at the rented home at the time of the fire. Tom Pitts, who had recently arrived from Oregon, also was not at the house when the fire started, but he still lost some personal items. He has since returned to Oregon, Townsend said.
The owner of the house was listed as Jennifer Pan of Seattle. She said she was managing it for her parents, former island residents currently in Taiwan.
Pitts, Townsend and Gabriel were at a drive-in movie triple feature in Oak Harbor early Sunday, June 28, when the house caught fire about 3 a.m., Townsend said.
Island County Fire District 3 officials said the fire apparently started at the rear of the house, and quickly moved to all the rooms. The fire was not considered suspicious, said Fire District 3 Deputy Chief Jon Beck.
Townsend said an insurance investigator told her the fire was probably electrical. Beck said the loss is estimated at about $250,000.
Hanna, a legal assistant in Clinton, said she and her family were burned out of their Goss Lake Road rental house in a similar incident in early 1992.
“A dryer caught fire, and we lost everything,” Hanna said. “A group of people in the community who I didn’t even know stepped up, rented a storage unit, and put out the word that we needed anything and everything.
“Within a week we had a storage unit full of stuff, enough for a two-bedroom duplex,” she said.
She said Waterman Self Storage, 5653 Langley Road in Langley, has donated the use of a storage unit for Pitts and Townsend, which will be open Saturday, July 18, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sunday, July 19 from 1 to 3 p.m. Hanna said donations at other times can be arranged by calling her at 321-2164.
“It’s karma,” Hanna said. “I decided to do the same thing for them that people did for me years ago.”
Meanwhile, Townsend said she and Pitts are searching for a new rental house that will fit their limited budget.
“We’ll be fine,” Townsend said. “Hopefully, we can move in somewhere pretty soon and get things back together.”
A Townsend-Pitts Relief Fund has been established. Contributions can be made at any US Bank branch.