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What’s that odd smell in the air Saturday night? You’re not the only ones wondering

Welcome to Bellingham sign on Boulevard Street. Several people reported an odd odor Saturday evening. The reports came from Edgemor neighborhood on the southern city limits and progressed north through Fairhaven, South Hill, downtown and the waterfront, and finally toward the unincorporated Marietta area northwest of the city.
Welcome to Bellingham sign on Boulevard Street. Several people reported an odd odor Saturday evening. The reports came from Edgemor neighborhood on the southern city limits and progressed north through Fairhaven, South Hill, downtown and the waterfront, and finally toward the unincorporated Marietta area northwest of the city. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Many callers to 911 reported an unusual odor Saturday evening, but the source of the smell hasn’t been located and no damage or injuries were reported, officials said.

Assistant Chief Bill Hewett of the Bellingham Fire Department said calls to 911 began around 7 p.m. from residents of the Edgemor neighborhood on the southern city limits and progressed north through Fairhaven, South Hill, downtown and the waterfront, and finally toward the unincorporated Marietta area northwest of the city. He didn’t have an exact number of calls, but said dispatchers were becoming overwhelmed.

“We were not able to locate any particular source for the odor,” Hewett said. “The best we can tell, is that it appears to be something that comes in off the bay. It’s rolling citywide.”

A 911 call for an odor investigation gets a response from the three-member crew of an engine company. He said firefighters could smell the odor, but detected no hazardous or explosive gases on portable meters that are part of a fire engine’s tool inventory.

“So far no source has been found and while we can smell the odor, our gas detectors are not picking up any thing hazardous,” Hewett wrote at 7:47 p.m. Saturday on the department’s Twitter account, @BellinghamFire. Fire crews consulted Cascade Natural Gas, but no leak was found, Hewett wrote.

Fire crews from several stations around the city investigated, he said.

Hewett said similar incidents have occurred several times in the past, often on warm days when a south breeze is blowing as was the case Saturday. He thought there might be a tidal correlation, such as the strong odor of decaying plant matter from an extremely low ebb. But Saturday night’s lowest tide was relatively high at plus-3 feet at 7:23 p.m.

“It comes in, overwhelms us for about an hour as it blows through the neighborhoods,” he said. “(Firefighters) can smell the odor but our combination gas detectors aren’t seeing any hazardous levels.”

Saturday’s incident also seems unrelated to an incident Thursday afternoon in Ferndale, where students and staff at several local schools reported feeling sick from a noxious odor.

Officials at the National Weather Service in Seattle had no idea what could be causing the odor. A south wind was blowing at 7-8 mph under clear skies between 6:53 p.m. and 7:53 p.m. when readings were taken at Bellingham International Airport. Meteorologist Mike McFarland said he knew of no atmospheric or natural conditions that could cause the odor.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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