Business

As cleanup from Monday’s fire starts winding down, Hohl Feed & Seed ponders next steps

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.

As officials continued to assess the damage of the Hohl Feed & Seed building Wednesday afternoon, it’s an uncertain time for the longtime business.

Between all the tasks that are involved following a commercial business fire, manager Kelcie Faber was able to take a quick break and grab some lunch Wednesday at The Bagelry. Sitting in a window seat, Faber was able to look across Railroad Avenue downtown and see the burned-out building and reflect on what happened.

“Almost all of the animals are alive, well and healthy. That is a miracle,” Faber said.

Several of the animals are missing, however, and the odds of survival don’t look good. Because of safety concerns about the building’s structural integrity, firefighters have been unable to check a few of the rooms. One area had around 10 birds in cages while another area had a six-foot albino ball python, Faber said.

She believes it is unlikely that the birds survived the fire, because birds are so sensitive to smoke. The snake could still be in its enclosure, but it doesn’t handle cold weather very well.

Many more were saved, however. Along with the 78 animals rescued and taken to the Whatcom Humane Society, there was a second wave of rescues from the fire department hours after the fire began, resulting in many more animals temporarily residing at Faber’s house. As of Wednesday afternoon Faber had around 100 baby chicks at her home, along with a few pet rats, guinea pigs and a turtle.

She’s confident that she will soon find new homes for all those animals, particularly given all the offers of support she’s received from the community. Noting that she’s received hundreds of messages that she’s still responding to, it’s been striking to her how positive the response has been.

“The outpouring of support has been amazing,” Faber said.

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Fire Marshal Ron Richard gestures to the part of the Hohl Seed & Feed building where construction workers saw smoldering on Wednesday in Bellingham. “It was smoldering slightly in the framing of one of the buildings,” Richard said. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Where do things go from here?

It’s still too early to tell what will happen to the building itself, Faber said. Investigations are still determining whether the building could be rebuilt.

If it is too damaged, it will likely be torn down. Faber said the owner of the business, Melanie Gelb, arrived on Wednesday from Spokane to survey the damage.

It’s also unclear at this point whether they will open a temporary location or even launch fundraisers. Faber said as decisions are made, they will try to let customers know through the company’s Facebook page.

Also on the list of Faber’s top concerns is her employees. Seven people worked at the store, some of them full-time, and they’re now looking for work.

“For some, this is their lifeline,” Faber said.

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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