BELLINGHAM - An elderly Bellingham man likely died while burning brush Monday, July 14, leading to a 3,000-square-foot fire that engulfed a motor home and a large shop off Mount Baker Highway.
A sheriff's deputy on patrol in the neighborhood around 12:30 p.m. saw dark smoke coming from the 1400 block of the highway. He headed that way thinking someone might be burning too much brush without a permit. Once he reached the driveway, passersby flagged him down saying the fire looked out of control.
He found an old man unconscious on the ground by a motor home. The man didn't have any obvious burns, said Mitch Nolze, a fire investigator for the Whatcom County Fire Marshal's Office. Flames likely from several scattered piles of debris and brush - each small enough to be legal, Nolze said - were spreading to the motor home and the dry grass.
The deputy carried the man to safety and tried CPR, but he couldn't revive him.
The man's name and cause of death will be released after an autopsy.
Meanwhile, the flames burned the motor home to its frame and caused heavy damage to a 2,700-square-foot shop about a car's length to the north. Dark gray smoke could be seen from Interstate 5.
Firefighters battled in the haze of the stubborn fire for an hour before announcing over radio it had been knocked down. It took another two hours to make sure the hotspots had cooled off.
State troopers detoured the highway because both directions were blocked by fire engines, utility trucks and water tenders from North Whatcom Fire & Rescue and neighboring fire districts. Flaggers reopened the road around 3:30 p.m.
As of Monday evening, the official cause of the fire had not been confirmed, Nolze said, but the burn piles looked like a likely ignition source. No one else had been home when it broke out into the yard. Authorities were told the motor home hadn't been plugged in.
The man would have been burning debris one day before a countywide burn ban goes into effect.