Girl’s belongings lost in smoke

An Oak Harbor apartment fire started by an electric hair straightener Friday morning resulted in the complete destruction of 15-year-old Willysha Franklin’s belongings and uprooted a family.

The Harbor Heights apartment complex was a blur of activity after a neighbor noticed a smoke smell and subsequently a fire in Cleo Franklin’s apartment, where she resides with her five children. When the unoccupied apartment was opened, smoke came billowing out of the building.

“It was scary,” said Lisa Lopez, a neighbor of Franklin’s. “I was shaking. It could have been us and if they didn’t put out the fire it would have been us.”

The Oak Harbor Fire Department did their job and then a crew of teenagers and the pastor from Mission Ministry Outreach came to the family’s call, helping move items into a vacant apartment.

“Everyone from that church came out to help,” Franklin said.

Sixteen children live in the eight-apartment complex where Franklin resided until Friday morning. Lopez said if the children would not have been in school and the fire had spread, the outcome could have been tragic. Animals were also successfully evacuated, including Lopez’s companion dog.

The 15-year-old daughter’s belongings were the only casualty of the fire, but for the high-schooler it was her world going up in smoke.

“It’s been harder on her than anyone else,” Franklin said.

“She lost everything,” Lopez added. “Her clothes, bedding, a dresser ... everything.”

Franklin works in Sedro-Woolley, making the commute each day to provide for her family. The belongings destroyed by smoke damage were just part of the day’s tragedy. The single mother did not have renter’s insurance and will have to pay the $2,500 deductible from the apartment complex’s insurance policy.

“Renter’s insurance is so cheap,” said Judie Gonzales, the apartment complex manager. “People need it. I would say 95 percent of my tenants don’t have it.”

Friday’s move marked the fourth in one year for the family. Working her fingers to the bone, Franklin has tried to build a life on Whidbey Island after moving from Colorado.

“It’s been a hectic and very rough year,” Franklin said.

She had saved money to take a family vacation and had also recently invested in clothes for her daughter, all of which are now unwearable. Replacing all belongings and paying the deductible could sink the family.

“She’s very hard working and deserves to get some help,” said Lopez. “She’s such a good person.”

“She’s a wonderful tenant and a wonderful mom,” Gonzales added.

Lopez was in awe of her neighbors as they pulled together to help the family.

“People look at low-income housing as the projects,” she said. “I’ve lived in this complex for two-and-a-half years. We’re a neighborhood. A community. We help each other out.”

Franklin’s unwavering faith in God helped her and her family persevere through the traumatic incident.

“Really, God is good,” she said. “Nobody was hurt. I can’t complain.”

Willysha is in need of a dresser, bedding, and clothes — her favorite color is pink. Anyone wishing to make monetary donations or contribute items to help replace the family’s losses can call Lopez at 720-2458 or Gonzales at 679-6671.

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