SOUTH KITSAP — The horrific South Kitsap fire that claimed four members of the Simpson family in their SE Castlewood Drive home in the early morning hours of Oct. 14 also shook the neighbors who surround the now-charred house.
Along the outside of a white picket fence that borders the Simpson’s front yard, helium-filled balloons with simple handwritten messages of love float aimlessly at waist level. Bouquets of yellow flowers and candles, with melted wax overflowing their containers, are propped against the little fence.
Just above the fence is a yellow fire department ribbon with bold letters that spell “do not cross line,” separating the house’s property line from the sidewalk.
Investigators from the Kitsap County fire marshal’s office are continuing their work inside to determine why — and how — the modest two-story home caught fire, destroying its contents and the lives of those inside, including father, husband and grandfather Donald Simpson, who survived, and his wife Vili, who didn’t. Toddlers Madison Simpson, 2, and Collin Simpson, 1, and their father Merle also lost their lives in the blaze.
A neighbor across the street from the burned-out home, who declined to be identified, was grim-faced as she looked at the destruction.
“It was horrible,” the neighbor said. “I had to keep the kids home from school today because they are so traumatized by it. We moved the kids into our bedroom last night because they were afraid.”
Her husband was the first neighbor to lend assistance to family patriarch Don Simpson, who had rushed outside and sprayed the flames with water from his garden hose. The neighbor also brought over his hose in a futile attempt to fight the fire.
“My husband brought over a ladder for Don to use, but by then, it was too late.”
The Simpson family was remembered by neighbors as being as sweet and kind as the fast-moving fire was savage and relentless.
The neighbor’s son said he remembered playing in the Simpson’s backyard just the other day. The boy’s mother recounted wife, mother and grandmother Vili, who enjoyed sharing her love of cooking by bringing over homemade delicacies from the South Pacific.
“That was her thing. She just loved cooking.”
Adding heartbreak to the tragedy, the fire took away two toddler grandchildren from surviving grandfather Don and their mother, Victoria Coen, who was not at the home that night.
The children’s lives lost in the fire was a particularly cruel blow. Their neighbor across the street reminded before returning to her own home: “They loved those grandkids. They were their life.”
‘It was raging’
Neighbor Doug Rinehart and his wife Kathie were roused from their sleep early Sunday morning by a commotion from their two pugs, who were stretched out on top of the bed.
“They were doing the little ‘woof’ thing,” Rinehart said. “My wife said, “Max! Quiet!” When she opened her eyes, she saw that the bedroom was lit orange. “She said ‘Wake up, Doug! There’s something going on.’ I looked out and the house across the way was fully engulfed.”
He timed his reaction at 3:55 a.m.
Rinehart said Kathie walked into the kitchen, which faced in the direction of the fire. The area “must have been 120 degrees in there, and we’re 100 feet from the house. The heat radiated over here and raised the temperature in the kitchen a ton.”
Ignoring the blistering heat, Rinehart walked out on his deck and shot a video clip and snapped some photos of the burning house, which is behind the Simpson’s at an angle.
“Because there was no wind, the flames shot straight up (instead of drifting to homes next door). It did get the outer part of the chimney next door. It got kind of charred and caught one of the trees on fire.”
While Rinehart said he had never met Simpson or his family, he knew Don was a barbecue enthusiast and must have had a couple of propane tanks on the property. “We all have natural gas here, but there was no explosion.”
It was one fortunate occurrence in an otherwise tragic morning.