BELLINGHAM - A 60-year-old Bellingham man was burned beyond recognition trying to save his sister from a mobile home fire early Wednesday, April 17.
The woman, identified by neighbors as Nancy Brink, 63, died before firefighters could carry her from the home at 1200 Lincoln Street, lot 115.
Her brother, Larry Manning, staggered to a neighbor's front door just before 12:24 a.m., with burns covering his entire body. He left a bloody trail of footprints on the asphalt and the porch as he went for help. His neighbors didn't recognize him. Then he said Nancy's name. He told them he couldn't rouse her.
Thick black smoke poured out the back of the 1,400-square-foot home, near Brink's bedroom. In the seven minutes before the first fire engine rolled up, a Washington state trooper and a Bellingham police officer sprayed fire extinguishers to knock down the flames, said Bellingham Assistant Fire Chief Bill Hewett.
Manning wasn't able to speak at length with investigators, so the cause of the fire and many other crucial details remain unclear.
"That's the biggest hindrance right now," Hewett said. "One's deceased and the other's being treated for his injuries, and he hasn't been able to talk with us."
Manning was rushed to St. Joseph hospital, then airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He remained in critical condition Wednesday evening, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Brink had lived at the home for seven years. She spent much of that time in her garden with her husband, Doug. They grew orchids together.
"This is pretty hard for the neighborhood," said Cindy Christman, her next-door neighbor, tears brimming in her eyes. "Her garden was her masterpiece."
Manning moved in with her in spring 2011, when Doug died following complications from an aneurysm. Since then, Christman said, Nancy wasn't the same. She'd grown reclusive, spending much of her time alone in her room.
Firefighters are still investigating the cause of the fire. They aren't sure if the siblings had been asleep before the fire began. No working smoke alarms were found in the home. Hewett stressed the importance of keeping alarms in hallways and bedrooms.
An autopsy on Brink was delayed because of a manpower shortage, said Whatcom County Medical Examiner Gary Goldfogel. So an official cause of death has not been determined.
Bellingham authorities have not given official confirmation of the siblings' identities.
The three-bedroom home, built in 1973, remained standing. But behind the shattered sliding glass doors, walls and scattered belongings were charred by heat and smoke, damaged beyond repair. Firefighters called it a total loss. A damage estimate wasn't available.