Business

‘So many people came by and wished us well’ after Hohl Feed & Seed fire

Watch a time-lapse of the Hohl Feed & Seed store fire

Bellingham firefighters battle a fire that destroyed the Hohl Feed & Seed store on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. This time-lapse video was captured from the nearby Bellingham National Bank building.
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Bellingham firefighters battle a fire that destroyed the Hohl Feed & Seed store on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. This time-lapse video was captured from the nearby Bellingham National Bank building.

Update Feb. 20, 2019: Clark’s Feed & Seed is now open.

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BELLINGHAM - While they feel terrible about what happened to Hohl Feed & Seed, employees and owners of nearby downtown businesses consider themselves very lucky the indirect damage from Monday’s fire wasn’t worse.

The early morning Monday fire gutted the Hohl Feed & Seed building at 1322 Railroad Ave. A firewall helped prevent the blaze from spreading to nearby businesses on the block, Bellingham Fire Department Chief Bill Hewett told The Bellingham Herald on Monday. The cause of the fire remained under investigation on Tuesday.

Clark’s Feed & Seed still assessing damage

With a solid firewall and good work by the fire department, Clark’s Feed & Seed didn’t receive direct fire damage, said Larry Oltmann, who has operated the business for 44 years.

“The fire department was off the charts in how well-coordinated they were in keeping the fire from spreading,” Oltmann said. “My hat’s off to them.”

The fish and pet supply store did have some indirect damage that Oltmann and his employees were dealing with on Tuesday. Water eventually made its way into the store, leaving about two inches on the floor. That kept the store closed on Tuesday, but Oltmann is hoping to reopen soon, possibly on Wednesday.

The fish in the tanks survived the fire, but the store did suffer a power outage that lasted about 12 hours. That shut off the filter pumps, stopping oxygen circulation. Oltmann said they will closely monitor the fish to see if the pump shutdown has lingering impacts.

While he was watching the fire on Monday, unsure of the fate of his business, Oltmann was heartened by the number of people who came up to him and offered to physically help get the business back to normal and open.

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The Clark Feed & Seed building sits unharmed alongside a destroyed Hohl Feed & Seed in Bellingham on Tuesday. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

“So many people came by and wished us well,” Oltmann said.

Dry cleaning business in good shape

When the owners and employees of Vienna Cleaners started hearing about the fire Monday morning, they didn’t know what they would find as they rushed over to the business at 206 E. Magnolia St., just feet away from the fire.

As Vienna Cleaners co-owner Brian Richards arrived with the fire still going, it was a discouraging scene: Bystanders were crying over the potential loss of animals inside Hohl, firefighters were busy rushing survivors they found out into the street. He estimated that water seven inches high was rushing down the alley, which goes right to Vienna’s back door and drive-up window.

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A charred Hohl Feed & Seed, seen Tuesday from the roof of the Puget Sound Energy Building, sits vacant after Monday morning’s fire in Bellingham. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

He expected to find water rushing into the back door, but that didn’t happen.

“We are so lucky to have a curb of asphalt near the back door,” said Richards in an interview, adding that the curb was only recently heightened. “We could have been spending a lot of time cleaning up water today (Tuesday).”

Other than a few busted doors as fire fighters went in to make sure the fire hadn’t reached Vienna Cleaners, there was little damage at the business, said Tricia Davis, an employee at the dry-cleaning business. There was a light amount of smoke inside the business, but nearly all the clothes were covered in plastic. The business was open on Tuesday and plans on maintaining regular hours going forward. The drive-up window is closed until the alley reopens, however.

Several officials inspected Vienna’s large nearby boiler and found it undamaged and ready to use, which also allowed the business to reopen on Tuesday.

“The fire department was so helpful, they did a great job,” Richards said, adding that he received updates several times from the department during the event.

Vienna Cleaners has been in Bellingham since 1902 and in that spot since the 1950s. Brian’s father, Rick Richards, took over the business in 1962 and said he couldn’t remember a fire getting that close to the business.

Record store able to bounce back quickly

At Avalon Records, the business received very little damage, although power was out much of Monday, said employee Forrest Camire. They expected to find more damage and were glad that wasn’t the case.

More importantly, Camire said, he was grateful no one was injured and that most of the animals were saved.

“It could have been a lot worse,” he said in an interview.

Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.
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