Sunset Pond apartment fire left 27 people needing housing

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 8, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - At least 27 people - including six children - needed help finding new housing after a fire this week at Sunset Pond Apartments.

Flames tore through the attic of the three-story E building at 1301 Woodstock Way on Monday afternoon, May 6. Burn patterns showed the fire ignited on a tenant's balcony, then spread into the attic space. Investigators ruled the fire an accident and made no official determination of the cause.

But Bellingham Fire Chief Roger Christensen suspects a smoldering cigarette - not a charcoal grill as firefighters suggested earlier - might have started it.

The tenant smokes and admitted to firefighters that he sometimes throws his ashtray into a plastic garbage can on the balcony, Christensen said. The man ran barefoot to the main clubhouse and told employees to call 911 at 1:18 p.m. Monday.

It took more than an hour for firefighters to knock down the flames. Heat, smoke and water damage left the building unfit for living.

Management of the apartment complex secured hotel rooms for many displaced residents, said Stacy Rice, executive director of the Mt. Baker Chapter of the American Red Cross. Rice expects all of the tenants could find permanent housing within the week - or, hopefully, sooner.

The Red Cross has offered to re-house, feed and clothe any tenants who need help.

Nilofar Ganjaie, a Western Washington University sophomore, was on campus studying for a midterm when she found out her building was in flames.

"It doesn't seem real," she said at the scene Monday. "You hear about it on the news and think, 'That will never happen to me.'"

Her roommate, Emma Gremer, remained one of the last tenants to be accounted for, because she was practicing with WWU's track team. Then she looked at her phone and saw 15 missed calls and text messages.

Gremer and Ganjaie lived on the second floor. While the flames still blazed, firefighters combed their room for electronics, valuables and even Ganjaie's passport. They tucked them under a canvas tarp to ward off water damage.

"So we fared better than most," Gremer said. "It's the people on the top floor who lost everything."

Donations are being accepted through Christ the King Southside, on Samish Way. For details, call Melissa Gonzales at 360-920-6170.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read his dispatcher blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher or follow him on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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