There are feral cats roaming all over the vacant lands near the old railroad tracks in Hillyard. In fact, Bonnie Langley late last summer was watching two wild kittens play in the field behind the Alaskan Tavern on North Market Street. She moved closer, “I tried to get one and it went and hid under a car, and this other one hid under a board, so I just grabbed it,” Langley says.
Just why she plucked this particular kitten will remain one of life’s little mysteries. Nevertheless, the cat, now seven months old and known as Stinky, awakened Langley to a fire raging through the Alaskan Tavern and its connected apartments in the wee hours of Saturday, Feb. 13.
Stinky is being credited with helping save six lives — but hasn’t been seen since the fire.
City Councilman Bob Apple, who used to own a Hillyard tavern himself, says he was told the cat was last seen leaping from a second-story window from the burning Alaskan, which soon collapsed into a pile of charred rubble.
Marv Peterson of Hillyard Variety adds an equally dramatic account: Stinky leapt onto an exterior stairway that was on fire and raced through the flames to safety.
Nobody’s seen Stinky for nearly two weeks, however, despite many Hillyard residents keeping an eye peeled for a cat they consider to be a hero.
“I had a red collar around her with a bell on it … and I started waking up to that bell ringing constantly,” Langley says. “I called her name and she didn’t answer, so I looked under the bed to see what was wrong.”
That’s when, out of the corner of her eye, Langley saw flickering light and realized it meant trouble. A wall of smoke hit her when she opened the hallway door of her studio apartment.
Her adult son was crashing on the floor of the apartment that night, so Langley says she quickly woke him and then started pounding on the doors of the adjoining apartments.
It was around 4:30 in the morning.
Spokane Fire officials say balloon framing in the 100-year-old tavern allowed the three-alarm fire to rage inside the walls and quickly reach the upper floor. Thick smoke had almost entirely filled the hallway.
“When I headed out [into the hall], I heard the wood starting to crackle,” Langley says. She banged and hollered at her neighbors’ doors. All six people in the building escaped unharmed although they fled in pajamas and robes and lost all their possessions.
“I lost everything I had. We all did,” Langley says.
She is hoping for a reunion with Stinky, who she suspects was terrified by the fire and is hiding.
“I’ve been going out back by Broad and Wabash, and I haven’t spotted her yet. She likes those little balls with the bells in them, so I’ve been walking around Hillyard ringing those,” Langley says.
Other residents have been searching as well, some leaving out food.
Everyone, it seems, is worried about the little cat and eager to welcome it home a hero.