Apartment fire

A Ridgeway Village apartment building was damaged by fire on Oct. 4, 2020.

Residents displaced by a fire at Ridgeway Village apartments in Hermiston on Oct. 4 say they are still struggling to recover after losing their homes.

According to Umatilla County Fire District No. 1, the district responded to the apartments at 2:13 a.m. on Oct. 4 to find “heavy fire” coming out of the first-floor apartment and extending into the upstairs unit and eaves of the roof. Altogether, two apartments were damaged by fire and two by smoke and water damage. The district also had to put holes in the building in some places to attack the fire.

Linda R. Schoen, who lives in the apartment above where the fire apparently started, said she had gotten home and was “just trying to unwind” before getting into bed when she heard a commotion outside.

She said she has a neighbor with apparent mental illness issues who frequently yells outside late at night, and at first, she thought it was just that neighbor’s usual ruckus. Then she realized the woman was shouting the word “fire.”

“I thought, ‘I’d better look,’ and I opened my window and smoke was pouring out the window,” she said.

She ran downstairs and saw flames, so she pulled out her phone and called 911. She was so worried, she said, she couldn’t remember her own apartment number when the dispatcher asked.

She said she ran back upstairs to get her dog, and then realized she had better pound on all the doors and windows in the building to make sure everyone got out.

Mariza Altaf was one of those neighbors. She had fallen asleep with the television and a fan turned up loud in anticipation of the usual nighttime yelling episodes, but couldn’t ignore Schoen’s insistent knocking and yelling that there was a fire.

“I ran out in my underwear,” she said. “Linda was yelling, ‘Get out, the building’s on fire.’ Every bone in my body was a noodle. I don’t know how I did anything, but I grabbed my pants and my dog and my shoes on the way out the door.”

She said Schoen was insistent in making sure everyone got out, pounding on walls next to people’s bedrooms if they didn’t come to the door.

Altaf said even though her apartment and belongings were severely damaged, she has a good renter’s insurance policy and expects to receive a payout to replace everything she lost. She said she was worried about Schoen, who lost everything and does not have the means to replace it.

“This woman saved my life,” she said. “She was my friend before but now I’m indebted to her.”

Schoen said the apartment complex was going to let her into her apartment to see what she might be able to salvage, and some people have offered to donate items. But right now she is staying in a small motel room, and said she doesn’t have any room to store items or the money to rent a storage unit. She also doesn’t know when she will get into a new apartment, as HUD was paying for her previous housing and the waiting list to get into a HUD apartment is months long.

According to a news release from UCFD1, no one was injured because “the occupants of the apartment complex were very effective at getting everyone out before fire crews arrived.”

The department didn’t return a call asking about the fire’s cause.

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