November 27, 2001 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

As two victims recover from a house fire last week, rainy weather is being blamed for the blaze.

Mike Stewart, 24, and a friend, Belinda Pierson, narrowly escaped an early morning fire in Stewarts double-wide manufactured home near Intermountain Livestock Wednesday.

Stewart, who is expected to return to work next week at Intermountain Livestock, suffered second-degree burns on his back as he escaped the burning home through a bedroom window, an employee at the livestock yard said.

While Stewart was treated at Grande Ronde Hospital and released the day of the fire, Pierson was airlifted to Legacy Emanual Burn Center in Portland for treatment of burns on her back and feet. She had fled the house barefoot through a hallway already burning to reach a door.

Tuesday she was reported as still in serious condition at the burn center, a spokeswoman said.

Stewart was spending time with her in Portland and with her family in Ashland this week, according to friends.

Just hours after the fire was doused by La Grande Rural Fire Protection District and La Grande Fire Department firefighters, Union County Deputy Sheriff Jim Voelz and Scott Goss from the state fire marshals office in Pendleton searched through the homes ashes for a cause.

An unusual combination of rain and wind seems to be to blame.

According to Voelz, the early morning hours Wednesday were rainy with a strong west wind blowing. The wind apparently blew the rain into the protective weather head on the outside of the house.

It looks like water got into the weather head and caused an arc inside the breaker box. Thats our best guess, Voelz said.

The short in the homes electrical system led to the fire. Its believed the home did have a smoke alarm, but it wasnt heard to go off.

Shes not sure what woke her, Voelz said after talking to Pierson. She may have been awakened either by the sound of the fire, or by a dog that was inside the house.

They were really lucky, Voelz said last week.

Stewart, Pierson and the dog were able to escape the blaze, which had engulfed the house by the time they awakened.

Firefighters said the home was totaled by the fire.