'Suspicious circumstances' under investigation after fire at Bellingham triplex


BELLINGHAM - A survivor of a suspicious weekend fire at a triplex in Bellingham credited his teenage daughter with saving the five occupants of the home.

Tabor Dial, 13, happened to be awake at 3:50 a.m. - her dad jokingly said she has a bit of a cell phone addiction - when she heard loud popping sounds outside their home at 813 Blueberry Lane, just west of Interstate 5 in the Puget neighborhood. She awakened her father, Ben Dial, fearing that something had gone wrong with his car, or that someone was carelessly setting off fireworks in the street.

It turned out a neighboring unit of the triplex, Unit 2, had caught fire.

"Who knows what could've happened," said Ben Dial.

All five residents of the home - and the dog, a Pomeranian named Preston - got outside within moments. Someone called 911 and Ben Dial tried to put out the flames with a garden hose to no avail.

It took an aggressive, half-hour attack from Bellingham firefighters to get the flames under control. Smoke and water damage left the other two units uninhabitable.

Nobody was hurt, but the Mount Baker Chapter of the American Red Cross reported six people needed assistance after the fire.

Firefighters traced the point of ignition to a bedroom on the second floor of the recently vacated Unit 2. According to Ben Dial, the prior tenants were evicted for not paying their rent.

The official cause remains undetermined. Police have joined a follow-up investigation into the "suspicious circumstances" surrounding the incident, said Bellingham Fire Chief Roger Christensen.

The fire chief declined to go into detail because it's an active case, but noted that investigators collected samples of burnt material from inside the home, a routine for unsolved fires.

Assistant Fire Chief Bill Hewett noted, in a press release, that "activities that are under further investigation appear to be limited to the property involved in the fire."

In other words, firefighters don't think there's an immediate threat to the community at large.

A Bellingham police spokesman did not return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon.

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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