By Natalie Johnson / firstname.lastname@example.org
When a devastating fire ripped through two Centralia homes last week, 12 members of a family were displaced, five of whom were briefly hospitalized with smoke inhalation and burns.
The fire destroyed a large, extended family’s longtime home base, reducing years of memories to ash.
That would have been bad enough, but only a few hours after fire crews finished battling the flames, the family was dealt a second blow.
Thieves broke into the charred home at 401 S. Oak Street and stole an irreplaceable memory of resident Rachael Greenwood’s deceased daughter — a locket containing her cremated remains.
“I don’t care about anything else,” she said. “… I just want it back.”
The gold, heart-shaped locket has flowers and leaves in Black Hills Gold and the inscription “Leah Lynn Steen, 3-4-08” on the back, for Greenwood’s daughter, who died a few months into her pregnancy.
Greenwood is asking whoever now has the locket to return it.
Other items stolen including a wedding ring from her first marriage, her Centralia High School class ring, a wallet, watch and a diamond tennis bracelet.
“They really went straight for her jewelry box,” said Greenwood’s partner, Kyle Scholes.
The thieves didn’t take a camera or game systems.
“They left expensive things,” he said.
The fire was first reported at 12:43 a.m. Wednesday at 405 S. Oak Street. Greenwood’s brother, sister-in-law and their three children lived there. That house was completely destroyed.
“I had just come home from work,” Greenwood said.
Greenwood, Scholes and their combined five children lived next door in 401 S. Oak.
They were watching TV when they heard screaming coming from outside.
She told The Chronicle she looked outside and saw her sister-in-law and her 4-year-old child running outside their burning home.
They called 911 and ran outside to help. Greenwood’s brother fled the home with the couple’s 2-year-old child. Their 17-year-old was still in the house.
“He got disoriented in the house,” she said.
Eventually the teen made it out of the home, as his family members called out to him. At some point, the fire spread next door, seriously damaging Greenwood’s home as well.
Greenwood declined to give her brother and sister-in-law’s names.
All five members of the family living in her brother’s home, including two adults and three children, were hospitalized after the fire. Two young children, aged 4 and 2, were treated at Providence Centralia Hospital. The two adults and a 17-year-old were taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for burns and smoke inhalation. All have been released and are recovering, Greenwood said.
Greenwood, Scholes and their children, ages 3, 5, 7, 11 and 17, were uninjured.
Investigators were finally able to enter the home at 405 S. Oak on Monday, but the damage was too great to determine a definite cause for the blaze, said Assistant Chief Rick Mack, of the Riverside Fire Authority.
“We have essentially a room of origin but we did not identify a cause,” he said. “I don’t even know what the room is used for it’s so damaged.”
Mack said last week that fire investigators were not immediately able to enter the remains of the home because it had been deemed structurally unsound. Crews got to work Monday stabilizing the site.
“We accomplished one major objective and that was making the building safe,” he said.
Mack said the next step in the investigation will be to speak with the residents of the home at 405 S. Oak Street.
The house was built in the early 1900s and was a base for a large extended family for years.
“That’s my childhood home. I lived there since I was 9 years old,” Greenwood said, noting that eight of her parents’ children and 30 of their grandkids spent time there.