We had just finished dinner when our neighbor from across the hall knocked on our door and asked if I smelled something.
I went downstairs and looked to my right at the entrance of tower one of the Chimneys Condominium. Flames poured out beyond the 10-foot awning, indicating that tower one’s interior stairwell was already engulfed in flames. We immediately evacuated tower two — our two young children carried out with no shoes on their feet.
As Bellevue’s first responders arrived on the scene, I was asked to help identify occupants of tower one as they did not know exactly who was still inside and who was not in the building. I stood under the roof at the east end of the carport and saw horrors and heroism that I will not soon forget.
The bravery of the firefighters to go into that burning building, a 50-year-old structure with unknown hazards, is beyond words.
I learned later that the condo fire could be called a “career fire” due to the rarity of the type of fire and the potential of losing one’s life.
I experienced up close the efficient movements, singular focus of work and calmness of communication in the midst of extreme danger that creates a foundation of strength in an otherwise overwhelming situation.
Community members and neighbors stood and sat on the southeast side of the Boys and Girls Club parking lot, not realizing that they would be displaced from their home for an extended period of time. I recall the crying and hugging, but what I remember most is the look of shock and bewilderment on faces as fire broke out and grew in tower two.
Far more important than anything else that happened on Oct. 24 was the loss of lives. On that evening that started as any other but ended as no other, we lost dear friends. God moves in mysterious ways, and we will never know the reason for what happened that night. What we do know is that those we lost will continue to live in our hearts as a source of love and hope.
As I sit here a week on, it is still hard to comprehend. One source of comfort has been the pulling together of the Chimneys community, our Bellevue neighbors, spiritual leaders and city officials. It makes me realize what grace and community is about. I am grateful to all who have helped us.
I am still hearing of many groups that would like to help, but they are not sure how. As is often the situation with these types of catastrophes, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what is needed, and to effectively distribute that help.
The Red Cross has been reaching out to people and offering short-term resources including temporary shelter, clothes and counseling. The Homeowners Association (HOA) is working with the Bellevue Fire Department to facilitate additional near-term outreach and emotional support for the Chimneys community.
Many of the Chimneys owners are still without long-term housing that will be needed during the rebuild and so this is another immediate focus of our community. Specifically, some of us are initiating a fundraising effort to help cover the uninsured and underinsured owners that would otherwise have to potentially pay both a mortgage and rent at the same time. If there is a professional nonprofit fundraiser in the community that would like to help, please reach out to me directly.
As we continue this long and unexpected journey, we look to family, friends and community. It is what gives us the strength and courage to deal with such circumstance.
Tony Cosentino is a Chimneys homeowner and Homeowners Association Board member. Contact Cosentino via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Note: Consentino wrote this column as a homeowner and not on behalf of the Chimneys HOA Board of Directors).