Fire official: Fairhaven's Reid Boiler Works fire probably started by fireworks (w/video)

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 10, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - Fire officials say aerial fireworks that were lit off near Reid Boiler Works and Taylor Dock in Fairhaven late Saturday night, Feb. 8, likely started a blazing fire that ripped through the iconic building.

Firefighters continued to douse the smoking remains of the structure with water and demolish what remained standing Sunday, Feb. 9, more than half a day after flames reduced the building to a shell in just a few short hours.

The century-old shop went up in smoke after a grass fire spread to the south side of the building at 920 10th St. just before 10:20 p.m., quickly engulfing the vacant wood and sheet metal structure. No one was injured in the fire.

Reid Boiler Works stopped operations in April 2010. Four generations of the Reid family ran the business for 112 years, producing industrial boilers for locomotives, schools, boats and mills, and later making canning machinery.

Karen Reid-Allen, daughter of owners Robert and Grace Reid, watched in tears Saturday night, helplessly standing by as the building, filled with childhood memories and thousands of handwritten documents produced by her great-grandfather, burned to the ground.

"It was a lot of good memories," Reid-Allen said. "100 years of history were just gone."

Witnesses told fire officials they saw three "gold-colored aerial fireworks" go off just south of the building before the fire started, Bellingham Fire Marshal Jason Napier said.

"We didn't initiate any investigation or find the debris because it covered such a wide area," Napier said.

An unusual series of grass fires in rural Whatcom County had prompted an emergency burn ban for unincorporated parts of the county on Friday, Feb. 7. There is a permanent ban on fires within city limits.

The last time consumer fireworks could legally be used in Bellingham was July 4, 2013, due to a personal fireworks ban adopted by City Council. Mortar-type fireworks were not legal before the ban.

Crowds gathered to watch Saturday night as flames tore through the light-green exterior, feeding a plume of burning debris and foul-smelling smoke that rose high into the air until well after 11 p.m.

The nearby railway was closed due to the intense heat and flames from the fire, according to a Bellingham Fire Department release.

Police and fire crews held onlookers at a safe distance while pieces of the building collapsed, blasting waves of hot air outward as growing flames shot up from the metal frame. It took firefighters nearly 90 minutes to extinguish the inferno.

Puget Sound Energy shut down power to the building while firefighters worked, and no power lines were reported as downed during the blaze, PSE spokesperson Mandy Davis said.

Originally known as Reid Brothers Co., the business was started in 1898 at the foot of Harris Avenue by brothers Robert A. Reid and Thomas W. Reid before moving to 10th Street in 1915, The Bellingham Herald reported at the time the company closed in 2010.

After auctioning off the metal-working equipment that once filled the building, the Reids planned to let the waterfront property sit empty. City zoning would allow for commercial use on the lot, such as restaurants, offices, hotels and shops.

"The neighborhood owned and loved Reid Boiler Works," Reid-Allen said. "We had planned on just leaving it as is."

An estimate for the damage was not available Sunday.

"Other than antiquities, we'd sold off the equipment three years ago, so there was very little in the building," Reid-Allen said. "There's just a heck of a lot of sentimental value."

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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