A Bellingham-area man died from a heart-related problem - not smoke inhalation - while burning brush by a shop building this week off of Mount Baker Highway, sparking a larger fire that caused $500,000 in damage, authorities said.
Allen H. Melton, 73, had been burning debris on the north end of his property in the 1400 block of the highway Monday afternoon, July 14. No one else was home.
A sheriff's deputy on patrol noticed thick plumes of smoke in the distance around 12:30 p.m. Moments later he found Melton unconscious in the yard, by a motor home. Flames from small piles of burning debris had spread through the dry grass to the motor home and continued to intensify, said Mitch Nolze, an investigator with the county fire marshal's office. The deputy carried Melton to safety to try CPR. But he could not revive him.
Smoke and flames caused $500,000 in damage to the yard, a large shop and property stored in the shop, Nolze said. The motor home burned to its frame.
At its largest the fire fanned to 3,000 square feet. It has been ruled an accident, Nolze said Wednesday.
Traffic was detoured for three hours while firefighters from North Whatcom Fire and Rescue and neighboring districts battled the fire in the 80-degree heat.
Initial tests showed Melton did not die from smoke inhalation. He had underlying cardiac disease.
According to the county medical examiner's office, "An autopsy was not performed and the death has been ruled a natural death."
A countywide burn ban had been scheduled to go into effect Tuesday.