Wash. man dies trying to put out fire with garden hose

Fire officials say the man died after trying to extinguish the blaze at a condemned house next door to his

Alex Bruell
The Daily News, Longview, Wash.

KELSO, Wash. — A Kelso man died Sunday morning after fighting a fire that broke out in the backyard of a condemned house next door, residents of the South Kelso neighborhood said this week.

Joseph Marlowe, 56, was fighting the flames with a garden hose, neighbors said, but he suffered a medical event — possibly from smoke inhalation — that ultimately led to his death.

The Cowlitz County Coroner's office confirmed Marlowe's identity Thursday but said his cause and manner of death are still under investigation.

The fire broke out in the backyard of a house in the 1200 block of Fifth Avenue.

Marlowe's family said they weren't yet ready to talk about the incident Thursday.

"When I got outside, it was big," neighbor Danielle Marcil said. "He was trying to get it out with a garden hose, and it was way too big for that. He told me to call 911, and I did. ... He died trying to protect his house."

Many of the houses nearby have young children, neighbor Tina Seibert added, and Marlowe's mom told her Marlowe didn't want the fire to threaten them either.

Seibert has lived at her house for almost 15 years, and she said the property where the fire started began to fall into disrepair about three years ago when the owner passed away.

That house, which is now condemned by the City of Kelso, "needs to be torn down," Seibert said, and she wishes something had been done earlier.

People have been sleeping over and coming in and out of the property, she said, and garbage from the property had been piling up and spilling into the alleyway behind the house. She's called the police and filed reports after seeing cars being stripped in front of the house, bonfires being lit in the backyard and other suspicious activity.

Marlowe was a good neighbor, and he and his family mostly kept to themselves, Seibert said.

"I just feel terrible that my neighbor passed away for something that could — and should — have been dealt with years ago," Seibert said.

Aidee Rodriguez, who lives with her family in a house on the same street, said they've also had some complaints about the garbage. The people living on the condemned property didn't bother her family and were polite when they did pass by, she said.

The fire started in an abandoned van in the backyard of the condemned house, Cowlitz 2 Fire Chief Dave LaFave said Thursday. Its cause is still under investigation, but it looks like it may have been started by a person, accidentally or otherwise.

"It appeared that way, at least early on, because there were no natural sources of ignition that seemed to be available," LaFave said. "Either someone was possibly burning something, or something was discarded."

Cowlitz 2 firefighters were dispatched to the fire about 12:50 a.m, Battalion Chief Joe Tone said. The house wasn't on fire, but the fire had begun to spread to overgrown vegetation and garbage in the unkempt back area of the house.

The house has been condemned since Dec. 2017, according to a notice posted by the city on the property, Tone said.

Fencing separating the property from a neighbor's yard was also burning, and that neighbor's shed was close to catching fire when firefighters arrived. The shed suffered some charring but the fire did not make it inside, Tone said, and the condemned house itself was not damaged.

Cowlitz 2 officials said a neighbor was treated for a medical condition while trying to protect his next-door home with a garden hose. He appeared ill after the fire, but signed a refusal for treatment by Cowlitz 2 medics, LaFave said. (LaFave couldn't confirm his name, but that neighbor appears to have been Marlowe.)

Seibert also said Marlowe refused a ride to the hospital. He suffered from mental illness and was uncomfortable with other people touching him, she said.

Twenty minutes later, Seibert said, Marlowe's mother ran to her door for help because Marlowe wasn't breathing. Medics were dispatched back to the area at 2:08 a.m. for a 56-year-old man who suffered a cardiac arrest, LaFave said, and they took him to St. John Medical Center.

The Coroner's office confirmed Marlowe's official time of death was 3 a.m. Sunday at St. John Medical Center.

Firefighters are looking for information from the public on what may have caused the fire.

"This is clearly an issue for us and the neighborhood," LaFave said. "Structures that are dilapidated or left in significant disrepair ... They're not just a nuisance. They (can) become a hazard."


©2020 The Daily News, Longview, Wash.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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