The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

By Diana Zimmerman
Wah. Co. Eagle 

Suspicious fire burns Altoona house


On July 9, a little before 4 a.m. Fred Cantrell was asleep in his fiancée’s home on Altoona Pillar Rock Road when he heard a loud explosion.

Startled, he jumped out of bed and hurried into the kitchen. He found a wall of fire.

He ran to his future wife’s room and shouted.

“There’s a fire in the house! Get up!”

“I was deep in sleep,” Kathy Hamilton said. “But I heard the word ‘fire’ and I just ran.”

In their bare feet and pajamas, they ran for the door. Hamilton grabbed her purse, cell phone and the first set of keys she could find on their way out.

“There wasn’t time for anything else,” Hamilton said.

Cantrell started to go back in after their two dogs, but it was too late. They hurried over to his 92 year old mother’s manufactured home and got her out.

Hamilton, an artist, had just had a studio built. All her treasured watercolors were in there. 60 years of collecting life’s wants and needs went up in smoke. Their beloved pets were gone.

A half hour later when the fire trucks arrived from Grays River Fire Department, Naselle Fire Department, Skamokawa Fire Department and District 4 Fire Department, there wasn’t much the firefighters could do.

The house and two cars were fully engulfed, according to Jim Wilson, chief of District 4.

“There was extensive damage to the outbuildings and cars,” Wilson said in an email. “The house had burnt nearly to the ground before the majority of the fire fighting equipment could arrive.”

At that point, all Hamilton wanted was for the firefighters to save the new manufactured home that she and Cantrell had put in for his 92 year old mother.

Thankfully, they were able to save that home.

"The fire seems to have started in the travel trailer,” Kevin Maki, Assistant Chief for the Grays River Fire Department said.

The source of the fire remains undetermined at this time, according to Sheriff Mark Howie who had a chance to speak with the Longview fire marshal, who will conduct an investigation.

“The fire marshal could not make a determination because of the extent of the fire, Howie said. “It’s still a suspicious fire. Arson is hard to prove and evidence is hard to find when the fire is as far along as this one was.”

Attempts were made to contact the Longview fire marshal for confirmation, but he had not returned a phone call as of press time.

Hamilton and her husband purchased the home in 2004. She’s just discovered that when he passed away two years ago, he left the home woefully underinsured.

She, her fiancé and his mom are currently staying in the home they just moved his mother out of in Oregon. The house sits empty, his mother’s transition to Hamilton’s property and the manufactured home nearly complete. Now she’s back with two in tow, and they are camping out in the barren home.

“We’re doing fair,” Hamilton said. “It’s hard to say you’re doing great when something like this happens. I would never imagine being in this spot.

“People have been so kind. We have good neighbors and good friends. We appreciate all the good wishes and everything that’s been done for us. We are definitely counting our blessings.”

Hamilton speaks of gratitude.

“Wahkiakum County is a tight community and it’s one of the reasons I want to stay. I love it here. We had a beautiful place and we will again.”

If you would like to provide some support, the Kathleen Hamilton Fire Fund has been set up at the Bank of the Pacific.


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