Fire damages two apartments at Bellingham building

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 5, 2013 

APTFIRE

Jacob Thrien, 5, from Richmond, British Columbia, stands in back of his neighbors destroyed apartment Friday, July 5, 2013, in Bellingham. Thrien, who is staying with his father two doors down, was celebrating his first fourth of July at the beach while the fire consumed the two apartments next door to his.

DANIEL PICKARD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM — A fire that started outside apartments on Alderwood Avenue late Thursday, July 4, spread into two units, but was controlled by firefighters before it could damage the entire building.

Tony Johnson had lived in one of those apartments for a few years and was home at 10:20 p.m. as neighbors set off fireworks on the other side of the fence behind the building.

"I was just sitting on my coach reading and ignoring the fireworks,” said Johnson, 58.

Then she saw smoke out the window and called 911 to report the fire at 3427 Alderwood Avenue.

“The flames were already really bad,” she said.

By the time firefighters from Bellingham and from Whatcom County Fire District 8 arrived, the fire was burning up an outside wall, reaching from the ground to the roof of the two-story building and into the wall of two apartments.

The blaze damaged Johnson’s apartment and an unoccupied unit, but firefighters kept it from damaging the other eight apartments in the Westwind Townhomes building, according to the Bellingham Fire Department.

“Basically I’ve lost my couch and my chairs because they are all really badly smoke damaged,” Johnson said.

Her bed, clothes and linens also were too damaged to salvage.

The Mt. Baker Chapter of the American Red Cross provided Johnson with a hotel for a few nights, along with help with food and other needs.

Johnson said her landlord is preparing another apartment for her to live in. But she’s unsure how she’ll replace the lost items. She is on disability and barely gets by.

“I just paid my rent so I have $5 to my name,” she said.

Donations to help her can be made to the Tony Johnson fund at Whatcom Educational Credit Union (account 321 930).

The fire started outside the apartments and spread toward them, according to firefighters. While Johnson believes the fireworks ignited it, the cause remains under investigation by the Whatcom County fire marshal.

Roger Christensen, fire chief for both Bellingham and District 8, noted that fires like that just outside of the city are among the reasons the two agencies have been consolidating some services. The quick response with enough firefighters can limit the damage, he said.

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