A family of eight escaped a devastating fire at a century-old home early Monday, Dec. 22, west of Deming.
Now the George family needs help getting back on their feet.
Jeff George Sr., 51, got up from bed around midnight and walked into the kitchen of his home at 6401 George Road. He yelled when he saw smoke and flames in the detached garage, very close to the northeast side of the two-story house. At that point, as George later told family members, the fire was small enough it could have been extinguished with a garden hose.
First, though, George ran through the house to rouse the rest of the family — Jeff’s wife, Debbie; Jeffrey Jr., 27; Jessica, 25; Jerrid, 20, Jerrid’s girlfriend Jessica Larranaga, and their daughter Gabriella, 3; Jerremy, 16; and four grown dogs — instead of trying to fight the flames.
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Everyone got out safely. But the fire grew out of control.
Dispatchers were called at 12:08 a.m. A fire engine and water tender turned into the driveway eight minutes later. By then the garage was engulfed in flames, and the fire had overtaken the home, said Whatcom County Fire District 1 Chief Mel Blankers.
Seven water tenders cycled in and out of the scene on the cramped rural road. In the end, almost everything inside the home burned.
Three puppies, labs who lived there since November, died in the garage. Sometimes they were kept warm by a heat lamp, though family members told firefighters the lamp had been unplugged Sunday, Blankers said. The cause of the fire remained under investigation Monday by the county fire marshal’s office. A damage estimate was being compiled.
Some crumbled photographs and family heirlooms were recovered Monday afternoon, while firefighters continued to drench hotspots to keep the charred remains from rekindling.
The wooden house wasn’t insured. It was built on homestead land in the late 19th century, then hauled by horse to its current plot, near the east bank of the Nooksack River, said Jennifer George, 29, who lives in Deming, a few miles from her parents’ home.
On Monday morning some of the younger family members fled the home without shoes, escaping literally with only the clothes on their backs. Two other boys, ages 6 and 9, lost belongings in the fire, but they were sleeping elsewhere this weekend.
The eight family members who escaped the house fire are staying at other relatives’ homes, for now. The George family has ties to the Nooksack tribe.
Jennifer George and Abby Yates, a niece to Jeff Sr. and Debbie, have been helping to collect clothes, necessities and Christmas gifts for the family.
“Honestly, the main thing they’re going to need right now is money,” Yates said.
More than $7,000 had been donated as of Monday evening, and drop-off bins have been set up by volunteers around Whatcom County.