City Councilmember’s home is severely damaged in April fire

A fire last month at the South-end home belonging to Mercer Island City Councilmember Benson Wong and his wife Terry, brought trucks and firefighters from both Island fire stations and Bellevue.

It was 10:40 p.m., April 1, when Wong was woken up by his wife, Terry. Terry Wong heard crackling in the ceiling. She ran down the stairs to look up at the high ceilings in the home's entryway. Through the joints in the ceiling, she could see orange, he said.

She called 911 as he went upstairs and grabbed a few photo albums. The 911 operator told them to leave the house immediately. She got a coat.

He ended up on the driveway in shorts and a t-shirt. He moved one of their cars out of the way for the fire trucks.

"We did not smell any smoke, he explained, saying the their bedroom was away from where it appeared that the fire started. "There was some wind, he remembered, and it was blowing the fire away from us."

Firefighters and trucks from the South-end fire station arrived in two maybe three minutes the Councilman said. Soon other trucks and firefighters came. Wong, who remained on the scene for two hours or more, was moved and impressed by the firefighters.

Within a short period of time, a total of 32 firefighters were on scene with 11 pieces of apparatus that included a ladder truck from Bellevue and fire and command vehicles from both Island fire stations.

Mercer Island fire chief Chris Tubbs said that the Bellevue ladder truck —called a "tiller rig," that has drivers both at the front and rear of the vehicle — was dispatched to the home on Holly Hill Drive because of its maneuverability on tight and winding roadways.

“The ladder truck is used to help ‘ventilate’ a fire from the side or roof of the house,” he explained, “to ensure fire and gas does not build up within the structure."

There was some concern about the proximity of the other homes and tall trees, he continued, noting that Mercer Island and Bellevue and the surrounding communities fire departments have protocols in place to facilitate sharing resources in situations such as this.

Wong said it was surreal to stand in his driveway and watch the fire. It took some time to take in the gravity of the situation, he said.

The Wongs were the only ones at the home. Their two children are grown and they do not have any pets.

The couple were escorted into the home for a few minutes after the fire had been controlled Wong said, to grab a few things. Commander Rob Villalobos told them to get what they could. He told them not to expect to return for seven months. They checked into the Residence Inn in Bellevue at 2 a.m. later that same night.

Wong was impressed by the professionalism of the firefighters and their compassion.

“Each, to a man, stopped to tell us how sorry they were about the fire and what they had to do to the house to control it from spreading,” he said.

The Wongs have now moved to an apartment in the Town Center. Wong who has a law practice in downtown Seattle and describes himself as having a Type A personality, noted that his life has changed. “I was surprised as to how disorienting this is,” he said of the experience.

The source of the fire is still under investigation.


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