Neighbor Makes Life-Saving Call as Rochester Fire Burns Two Structures, Threatens 35 More


Aluminum melts at 1,221 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Judging by the melted remains of vehicles on the outer edges of the burn path of a fire in Rochester Saturday, West Thurston Fire Chief Robert Scott estimates temperatures in the center of the fire reached over 1,500 degrees. 

The fire authority reported Saturday night that the fire in the area of 195th Avenue Southwest and Pecan Street Southwest had been contained after burning one residence, an outbuilding and 20 vehicles. 

The agency reported the blaze originally threatened to consume 35 structures and 30 vehicles. 

Crews responded to the fire at around 5 p.m. on Saturday. Agencies from across the region, including the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with helicopters, came to West Thurston’s aid.

Melissa Inman, who lives on 195th Street in Rochester off Pecan Street with her husband Shane Inman, saw flames and smelled smoke outside on Saturday that appeared to be coming from a nearby trailer. She called her next door neighbor, Manny Roco, who was asleep at the time, and told him to get out of his house, because it was about to be on fire. That call likely saved Roco’s life.

Inman said just 15 minutes later, the residence was engulfed in flames. She said West Thurston Fire got there fast, but the flames were even faster. As she recalled it, the size of the fire was challenging to describe to 911 dispatchers because it was growing by the second.

“I'm talking 100-foot flames just blowing in the wind and I was terrified,” she said. “There's nothing that can describe that feeling of being right underneath that.”

The official cause of the fire has not yet been determined. After it began, it climbed up nearby trees. Scott said once flames get that high, they spread due to wind the way dandelion seeds fly in a breeze.

Roco is a fixer of collector vehicles. From the lithium batteries in some of the Priuses on the lot, aerosol cans and propane tanks, there were a number of explosions coming from the scene as the fire progressed.

“I was having flashbacks from Afghanistan,” Shane Inman said, adding later, “Fire does whatever fire wants.”

On Sunday morning, the home had been razed to the ground as the area smoldered. Around the foundation of Roco’s home, even the glass from windshields had melted. Angry hornets, disturbed by the smoke, buzzed around the neighbors and firefighters who continued to douse the embers.

“The fire was so close to a widespread catastrophe given the dry conditions with a fire this size in a residential area,” Scott said.

Melissa Inman is trying to set up a account to help Roco and his family, who were fortunately out of town at the time of the fire. 

“I was creating something positive,” Roco said about his yard of collector cars, before he and Melissa Inman shared a tearful embrace.  

During The Chronicle’s visit to the scene on Sunday, neighbors were stopping by and offering help. One brought clothes for Roco.

“The shorts he has on and the sandals are what he got out of his house,” Melissa Inman said. “Everything else is gone.”

If not for the defensible space — a buffer area around a home lacking brush, woodpiles and other potential fuel — between the Inmans’ home and the fire, their home likely would have been next.

Melissa Inman called the firefighters “angels” and said she wanted to use the incident as a reminder for citizens to vote to support fire and EMS services.