Two days after the fire decimated their homes, residents of the Lighthouse apartment complex came back for their belongings.

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Two days after the fire decimated their homes, residents of the Lighthouse apartment complex came back for their belongings.

Cars coated in ash were slumped over melted tires in the parking lot. The building closest to the street was reduced to its charred wood frame.

Forty-one people lost their homes in the fire July 24 in the North Highline neighborhood, just south of the Seattle city limits. The cause is not yet known.

The tenants lived there on reduced rent, many graduates of a drug-and-alcohol rehab program. The place was their second chance, an inflection point for changing life’s trajectory, residents said.

Now, they must try to replace two things all too rare in the Seattle area: low rent and neighbors who understood their personal demons.

Ed Smith, 58, enrolled in a rehab program run by Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission in 2005. His longtime love in Ohio said that to be with her, he had to kick his alcohol addiction.

“He wanted to get married, and I told him he had to stop drinking because I couldn’t marry someone like that,” said Margaret Smith, now Ed’s wife.

“I came out here to get sober and be a real person for the first time in my life,” Ed said.

Ed married Margaret in 2006, got a job and eventually moved into the Lighthouse apartments owned by the mission.

The fire destroyed pots, pans, furniture and all the residents’ clothes.

Margaret, 61, lost the photo albums of her two dead sons. Her 1999 Ford Escort, the one she bought for $4,500 in February, is all but gone, too: a blackened shell with melted-off taillights and tires, along with Ed’s 1993 Ford truck.

Lindsey Musick, 15, lost photos and other mementos of her mom, Deborah, who died of a heart attack two years ago. Lindsey lives with her father, Scott, a staff member at the mission.

When residents say they lost everything in the fire, they’re talking about this, too: the annual Christmas party, the occasional barbecue, and the weekly Bible study.

“I knew everyone. They knew me,” Ed Smith said.

Sometimes, you might even go over to a neighbor’s apartment for coffee, Scott Musick said.

After hearing news of the fire, people donated about $14,500 in cash, as well as housewares, furniture and clothing, said Sharon Thomas, the mission’s spokeswoman. The mission has given the displaced tenants about $10,000 worth of clothing and gift cards, with the goal of eventually furnishing residents’ next apartments, she said.

“We have some of everything we need. We don’t have enough of it for 41 people,” Thomas said.

The Smiths first moved into Ed’s older sister’s place in Kent. Deljuan Gibson, his sister, gave the couple her bed while she slept on a reclining chair. She helped them write to-do lists and stay organized.

“You don’t even know where to begin,” Margaret Smith said. “You know you need to replace everything, but where do you begin?”

They started with Margaret’s 20 prescriptions for kidney failure, diabetes and heart problems; then a car, because both of theirs were destroyed in the fire.

Ed, who lost his job as a materials handler in May, is using a car given to him by a friend to launch his own landscaping business.

The American Red Cross gave the Smiths and other residents debit cards to replace some clothes, linens and medication. If the Smiths can find a new apartment with a monthly rent of $620 or less by Aug. 25, the Red Cross will cover their first month’s rent and deposit.

Ed said the deadline provides extra motivation to find a home soon.

In the meantime, the mission has found the Smiths a temporary bedroom at a men’s shelter run by the mission on Second Avenue.

About half the households from the Lighthouse Apartments are currently living with friends and family, the other half in temporary rooms provided by the mission, said Stacy Cleveland, a mission shelter director.

The biggest challenge for the displaced residents will be finding housing at the same cost as the Lighthouse Apartments, Cleveland said.

Tenants paid between $400 and $750 a month, with the mission subsidizing up to $350.

Scott Musick said his daughter and sister scoured classified ads for housing, while he worked full time at the mission’s warehouse. It had been near impossible to find a place at $400, the price of their last two-bedroom apartment. He’s missed that sense of security he used to have, he said.

“I feel somewhat lost, and I need to get that back,” he said.

On Friday, after more than a week of searching, the Musicks found a place for $750 a month. Scott said it would be a challenge to pay that rent, but he was still excited.

“You have no idea how big a relief (it is) … Now I have my own home again,” he said.

J.B. Wogan: 206-464-2206 or