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Fire destroys LO home

by: Courtesy of Lake Oswego Fire Department, 
A Sunday morning fire on Sundeleaf Drive destroyed this home and its contents. Cause of the blaze is believed to be a lit cigarette. Firefighters responded to the back of the house, above, and through the roof, below.

A family of six safely escaped a fire that destroyed a Lake Oswego home early Sunday morning.

Fire officials say the blaze destroyed the single-family home at 13932 Sundeleaf Drive and caused an estimated $90,000 in damage to items inside the home. The structure itself was valued at $175,000.

Deputy Fire Marshal Gert Zoutendijk said fire officials believe the blaze was started by a lit cigarette.

'Basically the homeowners dispensed an ashtray full of cigarettes into a little trash can that was sitting near a patio door,' he said.

The can apparently smoldered overnight.

Zoutendijk said the fire was discovered by Keta Katoa, a tenant of the home, who returned from work at about 7:30 a.m. and had just checked on one of her children when she thought she saw sunlight streaming in from the porch. The light, on closer inspection, proved to be fire.

'The phone that she tried to call 9-1-1 on didn't work because the phone lines were on the back patio,' Zoutendijk said, and had already been burned.

Firefighters were instead contacted from a cell phone outside the home while children were being evacuated. The four children, aged 2 to 13, and their parents, Keta and Viliami Katoa, all escaped unharmed.

Zoutendijk said firefighters struggled to fight the blaze because it infiltrated the patio, attic and kitchen by the time they arrived. Though they would normally push through the ceiling to attack flames, storage piled on plywood in the attic prevented the fire-fighting technique. It took 28 firefighters 50 minutes to control the fire.

The Katoa family was housed for two nights at a local hotel by the American Red Cross. They could not be reached for comment.

Zoutendijk said the Katoas rented the home and that its owner was trying to help them secure new housing.

He said Lake Oswego Fire Department officials see more of these types of emergencies in summer, when warmer, dryer weather helps cigarettes ignite barkdust and other materials.