Police suspect homicide in Ferndale-area fire that killed woman


FERNDALE - Police believe the fire that killed a woman at a house near Ferndale Wednesday night, Jan. 1, was intentionally set and it's being investigated as a homicide, according to the Ferndale Police Department.

An autopsy Friday found that Mindy Rhoads, 23, died of smoke inhalation, Lt. Bill Hatchett said. Her body was found during a fire at a house in the 4800 block of Rural Avenue, near Slater Road.

Hatchett couldn't give details about what happened before the fire or why investigators believe someone set the fire because it was still an active investigation.

"We have several people of interest at this point in time that we are interested in speaking with that may have been involved or have information," he said.

A Border Patrol agent in the area spotted the fire at about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. She banged on the front door, but no one answered, so she called for fire response. By the time firefighters arrived, flames had engulfed the house.

Firefighters didn't know anyone was in the home until about midnight, when someone spotted the body through a window. Firefighters removed the body and sent it to the medical examiner's office for identification and an autopsy, which took place Friday.

According to the Whatcom County Assessor's property records, the Lummi Nation purchased the house and surrounding property in fall 2012. Rhoads didn't live at the house; her last known permanent address was in the 6500 block of Hannegan Road, Hatchett said.

According to her Facebook page, Rhoads went to Lynden High School and then studied at Whatcom Community College.

Ferndale police are working on the investigation in cooperation with the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office, the Whatcom County Fire Marshal's Office, Whatcom County Fire District 7 and a fire investigation task force from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Fire investigators are still looking into where and how the fire started.

Reach Zoe Fraley at zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com or 360-756-2803. Read the Dispatcher Blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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