Bellingham man thought he had a car headlight fire extinguished, but the flames spread

The Bellingham Herald file

A resident of Bellingham’s Geneva neighborhood is staying with a friend rather than in the home he purchased last June after a small fire that started as an electrical short in the headlight of his car spread to his house Saturday morning.

South Whatcom Fire Authority crews, along with engines from the Bellingham Fire Department and North Whatcom Fire and Rescue, were dispatched to the 1500 block of Lakewood Lane at 11:16 a.m. Saturday for the report of a residential fire.

South Whatcom crews arrived within seven minutes, Chief Dave Ralston told The Bellingham Herald in an interview Monday, and found that the homeowner had been working on his four-door 2015 Acura RDX in the attached garage.

“He had an electrical short in the headlight previously and had a small fire in the headlight when he was working on it, and he thought he had extinguished it,” Ralston told The Herald. “After he had extinguished the small fire, he went into the house to call the dealership to order some new parts. While he was doing that, it reignited, and by the time he returned to the garage, the car was fully involved.”

Ralston said the homeowner attempted to extinguish the car fire, but it spread very quickly.

“The type of car he had had a lot of magnesium engine parts,” Ralston said. “When magnesium becomes heated and hot and burns, you can’t put it out with water unless you use copious and copious amounts of water — you pretty well have to dunk it.”

The homeowner fled the house and was uninjured, but in his rush to exit, he left the garage door and the door into a utility room in the house open, allowing the flames to spread to the first floor of the house.

“Obviously, you want to exit as quickly as you can,” Ralston told The Herald, “but it’s best if you can close doors as you’re exiting to contain and prevent and minimize the spread. In this case, he really didn’t have time. He was overwhelmed by how quickly it spread.”

Further complicating efforts to battle the blaze, Ralston said, were overhead power lines in front of the garage that fell on the driveway. Fire crews found live wires between themselves and the house.

“We had to change tactics a bit,” Ralston said. “We ended up having to come around behind the garage to gain entrance through the back.”

Ralston estimated the damages at more than $600,000, as the garage and car were destroyed by the fire, other parts of the first floor were charred and there was smoke damage throughout the house.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.