As smoke and flames ripped through the apartment below hers, Daniece Alopepe tried frantically to save her sister’s family. “It was so smoky, I couldn’t even get past the door,” she said. “I had my phone and I called 911.”
Fearing that her nephews were trapped inside, Alopepe said, she smashed a window of the ground-floor Mountlake Terrace apartment.
“The smoke and flames came out and the boys were already burned,” she said. “My brother-in-law, he was yelling, ‘My boys, my boys.’ “
The two children, 4 and 6, died in the fire at the Village Square apartments, 5020 212th St. S.W. The cause of the fire, which erupted about 11:30 a.m. yesterday, was unknown. Investigators were at the scene last night.
The Medical Examiner’s Office did not release the boys’ names. Their bodies were found in a closet in the southeast corner of the lower unit, said Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Scott Smith, next to a narrow window where the children may have been trying to escape.
The boys’ father, Sui Alopepe, managed to pull his own father from the apartment, but was forced back by the flames, unable to reach his boys.
The boys often played video games in the walk-in closet where they were found.
Sui Alopepe, 32, suffered minor injuries. He was treated and released from Stevens Hospital in Edmonds. He would not speak to reporters, but returned to the fire scene and was consoled there by his family.
Neighbors described the Alopepes as part of a large, close-knit Samoan family. More than 20 family members gathered in mourning at the scene, grouped in tight circles just yards from the seven units.
The apartments, built in 1974, were not equipped with fire-suppression sprinklers. The ground-floor unit where the fire appeared to have started did have smoke alarms, but fire officials said the family told them the alarms did not work yesterday. In all, two apartments were gutted and four others evacuated.
Daniece Alopepe added that the apartments had electrical problems. “We’ve had problems with the electricity for a while. We had no hot water for a while,” she said.
The family had lived at the apartment complex about three months. Before that, they lived in Fresno, Calif., and in Hawaii, according to public records.
“I’m so depressed; I’m devastated,” said a woman who identified herself as the boys’ grandmother. She declined to give her name. She said her son was asleep when the fire started.
“He tried to help the kids. He tried to do everything.”
The boys’ mother worked as a checker at a nearby grocery store. She rushed home when she heard the news.
“Whenever the boys came to visit their mother at work, they were always happy and bubbly. They always ran straight to their mother,” said Denise Hills, an employee at the store. “They were wonderful kids. They were beautiful boys.”
The apartment complex consists of seven buildings, each with four living units and outside wooden staircases leading to the top-floor units. Kids in the area played in grassy areas between the units, neighbors said.
“They all rode bikes together out here,” said Kelly Griggs, a neighbor who said his own 6-year-old son often played with one of the boys. Last night, a charred bicycle and other toys rested outside the family’s blackened apartment.
Billy Mineo, who lives in an apartment complex next door, said Sui Alopepe was always friendly and would wave at him when they went to get their mail.
Sui was taken away yesterday on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance, tears streaming down his face, Mineo said. When the ambulance doors closed, Mineo still could hear the sound of his sobbing.