A Ferndale fitness trainer was in Hawaii for his wedding Thursday afternoon, Oct. 29, when a fire destroyed his two-story house.
Neighbors saw smoke coming from the house, on the tallest hilltop in the neighborhood, around 1 p.m. at 5550 Aldrich Road. Flames broke through the roof before long.
The two-story house is perched above about 79 acres of pastureland. Firefighters unwound about 2,000 feet of fire hose onto a long asphalt driveway, shaped like a giant question mark, inclining as it curls a few dozen feet upward to the east side of the home.
The driveway’s length — and limited space at the end for the 13 or so fire trucks on scene — hampered firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the flames.
“A million-dollar view, but (we) can’t get to it,” remarked Whatcom Fire District 7 Chief Gary Russell.
The resident, Tate Norris, 27, and his fiancée, Leslie Berendsen, planned to get married in Maui the next day, Friday, according to an online wedding registry. Norris, a fitness trainer who owns the site 31daytransformation.com, had been out of town for about a week. He has been posting motivational pictures and video from Hawaiian beaches this week on Facebook.
Reached for comment by phone, Norris said he and his bride planned to move into the upper floor of the house once they returned to Washington. Except for the necessities the couple packed into their suitcases, everything was lost in the fire: baby pictures, a brand new bed set, new dressers, new couches, and all of their wedding gifts.
“We’re starting a whole new life together from scratch,” he said. “We lost everything.”
No one was hurt, however, and right now Norris said he’s focusing on the positive. His housemate downstairs, Jason Crawford, and his girlfriend, Steinun Sigfusson, weren’t in the home at the time. Sigfusson gave birth to a child two weeks ago, Norris said, and his first thought was of their baby girl. Her crib and other baby things were lost Thursday.
The cause of the fire remained unclear. Firefighters noted that as they arrived the heaviest smoke came from the second floor on the south side of the house, above a garage, said North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Chief William Pernett.
A large-breed dog was rescued from the property and hopped into the fire chief’s pickup truck, then refused to jump out, for a while, when relatives showed up to retrieve the animal.
Huge plumes of smoke — most of them gray-brown, some black — wafted north on the wind, as firefighters set up position on the south and east. Over the next two hours windows shattered, the roof charred, sagged and caved, and much of the second story burned through to the frame.
Most of the flames had been beaten down by 3 p.m., but some still flickered inside.
Investigators with the county fire marshal’s office will try to determine what started the fire.
County assessor’s records list the house’s value at $190,000. The landlord, Richard Bailey, said Norris was a tenant when his business, Magnatech Holdings, Inc., bought the house in 2007.
Norris’ family moved in 11 years ago. The house had just been remodeled, Norris said, as he prepared for Berendsen, a hair stylist, to move in. Now the couple plans to stay with family until they can figure out their next step.
Already, Norris said, support from the community has been immense. A gofundme account has been set up to help the two residents, under the name “Fire recovery for Jason and Tate.” Donations of baby clothes and other baby items are needed most, Norris said, and those can be made through the Christ the King Church in Bellingham.
“I think God will get us through,” he said.