A Greenbank family will rebuild their home after a large fire Sunday claimed all of their belongings, leaving just the outside shell of the house intact.

Army Spc. 1st Class Frank Sawatzki, an owner of the home, said he was teaching a class at Fort Lewis, where he’s stationed, when he received a phone call advising him to return home.

“In the middle of class I got a call my house was burning down,” Sawatzki said Monday. “I didn’t get here until six o’clock last night.”

Sawatski’s wife, Ronetta, and their two children were home when the fire began. When one of their children smelled smoke, the three soon discovered the front bedroom was on fire and got out of the house.

Sawatzki said he was relieved to learn his wife and two young children escaped unharmed. He was most thankful for the outpouring of donations from the community that had been made to their family in the first 24 hours.

“The help has come out of the woodwork,” Sawatzki said. “People who were driving by quickly ran home and dropped stuff off.”

Donations to family have come from St. Augustine’s-in-the-Woods Episcopal Church, Trinity Lutheran Church and The Cedars program, he said.

A Red Cross Disaster Relief group also was at the house Monday to help the family. That did not surprise Sawatzki.

“The Red Cross does good stuff,” he said.

Sawatzki said that for the past 20 years he has had $20 taken out of every paycheck for disaster relief. But he said never imagined some of it would be for his own home. As an instructor for the Army who teaches others to deal with disaster situations, Sawatzki said he has never had to deal with a catastrophic fire to his own house.

Sawatzki said he’s using humor to help deal with the stress of losing the family’s treasured belongings. He tries not to think about the things they lost, he said, but that his family is safe.

“It was the barbecue of the season,” he said, and chuckled. “At least we finally got the moss off the roof.”

About 20 feet from the house, the family’s white Chevrolet Suburban also showed damage from the fire’s heat. Like a marshmallow over a campfire, some of the white paint on the side closest to the house had bubbled and turned a golden brown. Red plastic lenses on taillights had begun to melt, then solidified in mid-drip on their way to the bumper.

Sawatzki said the family will rebuild their home. The house was fully insured, but on Monday their insurance company had not yet visited the scene. Sawatzki said he doesn’t know if the house will be considered a total loss.

“We’ll have to find someplace to live, and I’m sure something will come up,” he said.

A friend of the family, Meg Hilke, has set up a relief fund for the Sawatzkis at Whidbey Island Bank. Hilke also will begin collecting donated items for the family, and will keep them at OLF Storage in Coupeville until the Sawatzkis are in their own place. Anyone interested in donating furniture or other items should contact Hilke at 360-678-5475.

“Anything that’s left over we can pass on to the next situation,” Sawatzki said.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation Tuesday by the Island County Sheriff’s Office. Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue Capt. Bob Spinner said it took about an hour to contain the fire with help from Fire District 3.

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