A two-alarm fire at the Cove Apartments on 1st Avenue in Federal Way displaced several families and prompted a multi-engine response from South King Fire and Rescue on Thursday.
The fire started around 4 p.m. and spread to four apartment units in the eight-unit complex, displacing seven adults and nine children.
The fire was caused by accidental unattended cooking, said Capt. Jeff Bellinghausen, community affairs officer for South King Fire and Rescue. The fire began on the lower floor and burned upward to the second story units.
There were no injuries or fatalities, including people and pets.
“The complex has done a terrific job of finding homes for each [person] involved,” Bellinghausen said.
About 30-35 firefighters responded, classifying the incident as a two-alarm fire.
When resident Sabina Githaite opened her front door, all she could see was a wall of smoke.
“I didn’t even know there was a fire,” said Githaite, who lived in the apartment above where the fire started. “I opened the door to go to the leasing office and all I saw was black outside.”
She had limited escape options, so she ran to her second-story balcony, she said.
“I saw a guy below me yelling ‘What are you doing there?’” she said. “I was going to jump anyway but luckily, he was there and caught me and that’s how I got out of my apartment. I’m still trying to figure out the whole thing.”
Miraculously, the neighbor saw Githaite just in time and was able to provide a safe landing for her jump.
“I said ‘If you’re going to catch me, I’m going to jump,’” Githaite recalls, noting she has seen the neighbor around the complex before, but had never said more than a quick hello to him.
She has been a resident of the apartments since 2014 and lived in the unit with her 2-year-old daughter. At the time of the fire, her daughter was with a babysitter at a different location.
Once the neighbor and Githaite, along with other apartment residents, were a safe distance away, reality set in, she said.
“I could see the big flames on top of the roof and [there was] so much smoke,” she said. “I left like that, just in my t-shirt and pants. I left my keys on the table, my cellphone, my laptop, my jacket, everything.”
Some of her items were able to be recovered by a SKFR firefighter and Githaite said she is very thankful to both her neighbor and the first responders for their actions.
The American Red Cross Disaster Action Team 5 also responded to the incident and provided assistance of emergency shelter, food, clothing and other urgent needs, said Mat McBride, DAT 5 public information officer for the American Red Cross.
“[The apartment staff] responded amazingly,” said Lyssa Shaak, a resident who has lived at the Cove Apartments for 23 years. “It’s like ‘What do you need? What do we need to do to get you into a safe place?’ They’re just on top of their game. You know our managers care.”