More from the series
Bellingham pipeline explosion
The June 10, 1999, Olympic pipeline explosion killed three people in Whatcom Falls Park. The tragedy scarred Bellingham, but increased pipeline safety nationwide. Here’s a look back at The Bellingham Herald’s coverage.
Jason Buehler had fly-fished Whatcom Creek with Liam Wood, and he was familiar with the pool in Whatcom Falls Park where Liam was fishing when the Olympic pipeline ruptured, killing his 18-year-old fishing buddy when Liam was overcome by gas fumes.
"Whatcom Falls is one of the safest, serene places I've ever been," Jason said. "It just made me more upset that something like that could ever happen. Maybe it will never happen again, but it shouldn't have happened in the first place."
Liam, who was passionate about the outdoors, had picked up his diploma from Sehome High School on June 10, 1999, then went fishing after he apparently learned he didn't have to work that day at H&H Outdoor Sports.
Jason was still a junior at Sehome, so he had classes. After school, he went to his house in south Bellingham. When someone called him about the explosion, he stepped outside and saw the giant black cloud. The next day, a teacher told him that Liam had died.
"I was totally in shock," Jason said. "It was hard to believe that Liam went fishing, and died fishing."
Liam became fascinated with fishing when he was just 6. Jason learned fly-fishing from his father when he was young. Fishing was their common bond at Sehome.
"We fished together a few times," said Jason, now 27 and a Bellingham resident. "Fishermen love to talk about fishing more than actually fishing, sometimes."
Jason said he and Liam fished together a few times in the Nooksack and Skagit rivers, but Whatcom Creek was special to Liam.
"It's a beautiful spot," Jason said. "That's what he liked about it."
Liam planned to attend Western Washington University and stay close to the outdoors he loved. He also planned to do lots of whitewater kayaking and rafting, in part to access hard-to-reach fishing holes, Jason said.
"He definitely had a lot of plans," Jason said. "He wanted to go live life to its fullest, because he was 18."
These days, Jason manages computing systems, and fly-fishes. Liam once gave Jason some salmon and steelhead flies that he had tied. Jason still has them.
"I don't want to lose them," he said.
Asked if his views on life had changed because of Liam's death, Jason thought for a moment, then answered, "Life is too short to worry about a lot of stuff that people worry about."