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A house fire across the street from Pacific Lutheran University Wednesday night left a charred home, lost family photos, displaced students and unanswered questions.

“I felt the heat on my back,” said Soliga Soliga Jr., a man who has been renting a room in the house for four months. “I didn’t care. I wanted to get out.”

He opened his bedroom door and saw flames. He crawled on the floor through heavy smoke and exited the house through the front door, he said.

“I was lucky I wasn’t burned,” he said while staring at a small backpack, the only possession he had with him. “Thank God for guiding me out.”

Soliga said he was sleeping upstairs when he heard someone shouting his name. He said he thought the person was joking because a house fire wasn’t something he expected to happen to him.

Assistant Chief of the Pierce County Fire Department Pat Donovan said they received a call before 9 p.m on Sept. 14 reporting a house fire at the 500 block of 123 Street South.

Donovan  said first responders were at the scene within three minutes and reported heavy fire and smoke coming from the second floor of the house.

More than 20 PLU students watched firefighters extinguish the fire from senior Lexi Jason’s front yard.

“I don’t know them that well,” Jason, who had brought out water for her neighbors, said. “No one deserves to have their house burn down.”

Donovan said all four adult occupants of the house, none of whom were PLU students, were uninjured and accounted for. He said there was 21 personnel on scene and a Pierce County Fire Marshal investigating the cause of the fire.

PLU students who lived in the house next door to the fire carried bedding out of their house and said they were staying somewhere else for the night because of the heavy smoke.

Soliga Soliga Jr. turns his phone on after firefighters saved it from his burning bedroom. PHOTO BY RHIANNON BERG

Soliga said he didn’t have that option. He said he didn’t have family or friends who lived nearby and didn’t know where he was going to sleep.

Donovan said he contacted the Red Cross to help find support for the occupants of the destroyed house.

Soliga said he was thankful for his neighbors who had helped him get out of the house, but the father of seven looked heartbroken when he said he thought 30 years of his family photos had burned in the fire.

“It’s a scary thing,” he said. “All you think about is all your important papers that you carry around all your life and now it’s all gone in a minute.”


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