Fire destroys Ferndale boat-maker’s building

A fire at Northwest Marine Industries, a sport boat manufacturer, destroyed a large warehouse late Thursday, Sept. 11, and left its owners wondering if they can keep the three-generation family business alive.

Northwest Marine’s workers had gone home around 5:30 p.m. Three hours later someone working next door at the Timken Company, a steel and roller bearing business, heard a bang come from the back of Northwest Marine’s 11,420-square-foot L-shaped warehouse at 5375 Labounty Drive. The explosion — an overheated propane tank hooked up to a forklift, firefighters said — blew out a rolling door that stretches from the ground to the roof. By then the fire inside the warehouse was already strong and growing stronger. The cause of the fire remains unclear.

Firefighters saw heavy smoke and flames in the back southwest corner of the warehouse as they arrived at the scene. They focused at first on keeping the flames from spreading to a large propane business to the north, Propane Gas Ind., said Fire District 7 Division Chief Dean Crosswhite. Meanwhile, a second ladder truck and fire engines from Bellingham, North Whatcom and Marietta responded to help.

Tall flames shot through the roof, making it impossible for firefighters to make safe entry into the building. It took two more hours to get the flames under control, Crosswhite said. Everything inside burned. Twisted support beams collapsed inward, and clumps of charred fiberglass washed out into the parking lot.

Police and the county fire marshal’s office remained at the scene Friday afternoon to investigate the cause. So far, nothing has pointed to foul play, said Ferndale Police Lt. Bill Hatchett.

Northwest Marine Industries is owned by the Wright family: Ron Wright, his son Mark and son-in-law Ryan Binning. The family got into the boat-building business in 1955 in Fairhaven, under the name Sportsman Boats. Starting in the ’80s, the business operated out of a factory on Guide Meridian, where they made SeaSport Boats, until the economic collapse of 2008. Three years ago they moved into the Labounty Drive warehouse, where they had 20 employees cranking out about three boats per month.

“We put so much of our hearts and souls into trying to keep it alive,” said Mark Wright, a co-owner of Northwest Marine. “When you drive up and see it in flames, it puts a lot of things in perspective. Now the question is, ‘What’s next?’”

Before the fire, Northwest Marine had been shutting down for the weekend. (They’re normally closed on Fridays.) About a dozen boat-shaped casts used to mold the vessels were stored outside, and they weren’t damaged. A dollar estimate of the lost property hadn’t been prepared Friday. The building had an appraised value of $687,000, according to the county assessor’s office.

Most of the sports boats built at Northwest Marine are 16 to 28 feet long, lines named C-Dory, Osprey, Skagit Orca and TomCat.

Ron Wright started learning how to build boats with his father around the age of 8. On Friday he surveyed the wreckage with his son.

“It’s a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach,” he said. “And there have been a lot of tears.”