One Year Later: Survivors Of Burien’s Worst Arson Fire Continue On With Life

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by Mark Neuman

It was a year ago this morning (June 29th) that a fire tore through the Tara Apartments on SW 155th in Burien. The blaze, determined to be an arson by police, destroyed the Tara, jumped westward, and gutted the neighboring Jenny Marie Apartments.

The recently-rebuilt Tara apartments, left, and Jenny Marie apartments on SW 155th in Burien.

More than two dozen people immediately found themselves homeless.

Three people died, including Lindy Kunimoto, 49, Ramon Cisneros Sanchez, 76,  and Ramon’s 8-year old grandson, Edgar Cisneros.

One year later, no one has been arrested or charged in the incident (read our story on the investigation here).

Burien residents and businesses immediately rallied for the survivors, raising thousands of dollars and donating food, clothing and supplies.

Mayor Joan McGilton said last week “There has never been a greater outpouring of care and support by the people of Burien for others in need.”

We recently checked in with a few of the survivors to see how they are doing.

Fire survivor John Miklosh poses with his prized guitar, autographed by Vince Gill and Amy Grant.

“The fire is still on my mind,” said Sharon Howell, this past week. “I wondered why I was feeling so bad the last few days, and I guess my brain is just saying ‘Hey, it’s around that time (one year from the fire).’ Just talking about it gives me goose bumps.”

She and her roommate and friend John Miklosh escaped the fire, fleeing their unit in the Jenny Marie.

The two now share an apartment on 152nd near Highline High School, which they moved into mid-July of last year.

“We just love it here,” said Sharon, who works part time cleaning houses in the Issaquah area.

John still works full time as a superintendent in the international transport and container industry, and enjoys playing his new guitar.

“John met (country singer) Vince Gill in Wenatchee years ago before Vince got famous,” Sharon said, noting that John lost his guitar in the fire.

And Sharon and John still have their cat, Coco.

Closeup of John Miklosh's replaced guitar, autographed by Vince Gill and Amy Grant.

“We look at her and still see her scars. She really was hurt.”

Coco, scorched by the flames, was missing for the first four days following the fire.

“We were devastated. We thought we lost her,” Sharon said. “But some neighbors said they saw her going back and forth” to and from the ashes.

“Then she came back to us. John found her in the bathtub of our burned out apartment unit! We were so happy. She’s a rare cat.”

John Baggott lived with his wife, Jill, and son, David, in the Tara.

“Our dog, Missy, started barking and woke up Jill, who got me up and moving,” John said.

“She’s our hero,” said Jill of Missy, an Australian Cattle dog, also called a Blue Healer.

Tragically, their roommate, Lindy Kunimoto, 49, did not survive, despite the desperate vocal efforts of friends and neighbors to get him to climb out of his main floor bedroom window.

Arson survivor John Baggott in front of the rebuilt Tara Apartments.

Lindy died at the scene.

The Baggott family now live together, along with Missy, not far from Sharon Howell and John Miklosh.

“David is working at a restaurant near the Seattle Center,” said John, now retired and a graduate of Highline High School.

A big day is right around the corner for John.

“This Friday (July 3) I turn 70,” he said. “If my mother had held off fifteen minutes I’d a been a firecracker!”

Moriah Marlin, was a 29-year old mother of a six-month old boy, Emerson, on June 29, 2008.

“I never, and I mean NEVER, get two days in a row off from work,” Moriah told the B-Town Blog last July at a fundraiser for the survivors.

Barks from "Missy" helped save the Baggott family from the arson fire.

Moriah was away camping with her friend, son and dog that fateful weekend.

By utter coincidence, Moriah’s employer, a Burien grocery store, happened to have given her June 28th and 29th off.

“We returned home Sunday morning to nothing,” she said. “Turns out there were neighbors from two buildings up the street that were breaking our windows trying to save us and we weren’t even there.”

Moriah now lives in a house in Des Moines with Emerson, now a year and a half old, and her dog, Keira.

Moriah is currently employed as a technical support representative for a computer services company.

“Sometimes things just happen that remind you of the fire,” said Moriah, who has recently met a new and special man in her life.

“He wanted to give me a ring to show his feelings for me,” she said. “But he couldn’t just go to my jewelry box to try and figure out my ring size. He had to ask me my size, because the jewelry box I used to have, and everything in it, was lost in the fire.”

Moriah broke into tears recalling little Edgar, the boy who died.

“He would come to my place every day and knock on my door to play with my dog when he was a puppy.

“People told me the flames were forty feet high in the sky that night. I don’t know how I would have escaped with the baby and dog. Somebody above was looking out for us.”

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One Response to “One Year Later: Survivors Of Burien’s Worst Arson Fire Continue On With Life”
  1. Kari says:

    I responded last year too. I live almost directly across the street, my Husband and I watched the fire jump from the 1st bldg to the the 2nd. I remember seeing Edgar’s Mother engulfed in tears and….we knew. Heart wrenching!! My Mom worked with Edgar at Gregory Heights and he’d been doing amazing progress! (She’s Grandma W. to the kids.)

    New buildings may be up, but the memories and sadness remain. I was surprised no memorials were planned yesterday!

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