SUDDEN VALLEY - Smoldering, day-old fireplace ashes kindled a fire that left a Sudden Valley woman's home uninhabitable because of smoke damage Friday afternoon, Nov. 22, according to fire investigators.
The resident, a woman in her 60s, had gone on an afternoon walk for about an hour-and-a-half with her son and daughter-in-law who were visiting from Yuma, Ariz., said South Whatcom Fire Authority Chief David Ralston.
They returned about 2 p.m. to find light smoke floating from the eaves of the single-story home at 11 Lost Lake Lane. A contractor working on a neighbor's house ran over with a fire extinguisher to put out flames that had spread to the curtains. The nearest window had already shattered from the heat.
Firefighters arrived within six minutes, combating heat and thick smoke that caused $10,000 to $15,000 in damage to walls, framed pictures and personal belongings, Ralston said. The home had no structural damage but will need serious interior repairs before it's livable again.
The woman had been renting the home and was in the process of buying it, according to the fire chief.
She said she had disposed of fireplace ashes a day before by putting them in a paper bag, inside, near the drapes. Firefighters suspect the heat never quite died down.
During the family walk, Ralston said, the ashes must have rekindled, catching the drapes on fire in the family room.
Given the recent freezing weather, it's a timely lesson to fireplace owners to dispose of ashes in metal cans, to douse the burnt material in water and to put old ashes outside, far from anything flammable, Ralston said.
The county assessor's office lists the property value at $129,000.
Volunteers with the Mt. Baker Chapter of the American Red Cross have offered to help the woman find temporary housing.