One killed, two injured in Bellingham house fire (w/video)

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 4, 2013 

BELLINGHAM — One person was killed in an early morning fire Wednesday, Dec. 4, that tore through a house in Columbia neighborhood and left a family homeless, according to the Bellingham Fire Department.

Crews from Bellingham and Whatcom County Fire District 8 responded at about 4:30 a.m. and found heavy smoke and fire shooting out of the second-floor windows of a house in the 2600 block of Utter Street, just up the street from Columbia Elementary School.

A mother, her three children and a guest were at the home when the fire started in the front bedroom upstairs, said Bellingham Fire Marshal Jason Napier.

The guest died in the fire. His family was notified Wednesday, but police wanted to confirm his identity at an autopsy before releasing his name. An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday morning.

The boy who was sleeping in the room where the fire appears to have started awoke to the heat and began screaming “Fire!” to let the rest of the family know, Napier said.

The boy went downstairs and alerted his mother and sister. They tried to get everyone out and put out the fire, but they were forced to flee, Napier said.

By the time the other son opened the door of his upstairs bedroom, the hall was too smoky for him to get through, so he went out his window and onto the roof. He hung from the gutter and dropped into the bushes, injuring himself in the fall. He was taken to St. Joseph hospital, along with the other son, who suffered burns.

When firefighters arrived, Bellingham police officers already there reported that a person was trapped on the second floor. Firefighters went in with a hose, trying to put out the fire as they searched for the person upstairs.

They found him and were able to get him out of the house, but his injuries were fatal.

“They went into rescue mode when they got here,” Napier said. “Rescue was the first priority.”

Once everyone was out, crews worked to put out the fire and make sure it didn’t spread to neighboring houses.

The fire was determined to be accidental, Napier said. It appears to have been started by an unattended lit candle on a mattress with nearby flammable materials.

Napier said the home’s smoke detector was missing its batteries, and though it might not have changed the outcome of the fire, it could have given the family more time to get out if it had been working.

“People think that a minute or two is not a big deal,” he said, “but when the fire is doubling in size, it can get hard to breathe.”

Napier also warned that during cold weather, people should be extra careful and make sure to keep anything flammable away from portable and baseboard heaters.

The Mount Baker Chapter of the American Red Cross was on the scene to help the family, along with three Whatcom County volunteer support officers.

People who want to help can make a donation to the Lawrence Family Fund at any Whatcom Educational Credit Union location.

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