13 cats saved after 4th of July fireworks cause fire in Washington State

CLARK COUNTY, Wash. (KGW) — A home in Clark County’s Felida neighborhood is not a total loss. But the fire damage is extensive, starting in the front of the house with the master bedroom.

Standing outside and assessing the damage on Wednesday, Rex Ann Wirkkala said that the fireworks raining over her home from the next neighborhood over were extremely intense late into the night on the Fourth of July. And that’s what led to the fire that spread to the house, she said.

“I was actually witnessing it and I did holler a few times when they stopped for a few seconds to try and get them to stop,” Wirkkala said. “I was trying to tell them it was flying over, and it was like a war house over there. It was like a war. It was horrible, non-stop.”

She said that the fire kicked up in the tall arborvitae nearby and spread to her home. Wirkkala’s husband was in the hospital at OHSU for knee surgery, which she said she was glad for because of his mobility issues. But thankfully she didn’t have to face the fire alone.

18-year-old Jayce Wade was in the area, driving back home. He saw the trouble, stopped, and went into rescue mode.

“The house was on fire, most of the master bedroom, and that whole side of the house was on fire. At that point, it was starting to fill with smoke. She was inside and she’s got a lot of animals in there. I’m not sure how many, but we got two kittens and her out,” said Wade, who said he was glad to be in a position to help.

For 25 years, Wirkkala has been a committed animal rescuer and foster mom, with a focus on helping cats. In all, 13 cats and three dogs were in the home. Wirkkala and others, including Clark County Fire District 6 firefighters, ultimately saved them all.

“There were some really really good people that came,” Wirkkala said. “I mean, we lived here 30 years. What are you gonna do?”

It’s a lot to take in: a mix of emotions, and on top of going with no sleep after a terrifying night. Wirkkala’s son, Michael Strait, put it this way:

“It’s hard. It’s sad to see all your hard work go up in flames just over a silly holiday. I believe in the holiday, but I don’t believe in, you know, this. Even if it’s an accident, this is more than a sorry,” Strait said.

The family is left with feelings of frustration, mixed with thanks for those who made important rescues in Felida.

“I only wanted those animals out of that house,” Wirkkala said. “I put too much time and too much money that you can’t afford, and I have people that help me in the animal world, but you know, I’m not gonna let them burn. I wasn’t gonna let them burn, and they didn’t.”

The Clark County Fire Marshal’s office is responsible for investigating the fire and determining an official cause. And the homeowner’s insurance company will likely be looking to see if there is any liability on anyone else’s part.

In the meantime, supporters of the family have started a GoFundMe to help defray costs associated with the fire.

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