After Monday’s flames, the search for answers in Hohl Feed & Seed fire begins

Here’s what remains of Hohl Feed & Seed

Fire officials said the fire that destroyed Hohl Feed & Seed in Bellingham, Wash., on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, was not accidental and likely was caused by a person.
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Fire officials said the fire that destroyed Hohl Feed & Seed in Bellingham, Wash., on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, was not accidental and likely was caused by a person.

The latest: Investigation shows Hohl fire may have started by ‘an intentional or careless act’

Bellingham fire investigators were able to reach what they believe is the point of origin of Monday morning’s fire that destroyed a historic downtown landmark feed and seed store and are still working to determine what caused the blaze.

“We’re still working the investigation,” Bellingham Fire Department Assistant Chief Bill Hewett told The Bellingham Herald Tuesday evening. “We believe we reached the area of origin, and now we got to continue to work that area to determine exactly what happened. Hopefully we’ll have more information on the investigation (Wednesday).”

The investigation is not the only objective Wednesday in the aftermath of Monday’s fire at Hohl Feed and Seed.

Hewett said the building owner was expected to arrive in Bellingham either late Tuesday or Wednesday.

“We’ve been working with a structural engineer to look at the safety and security of the building,” Hewett says. “When the building owner arrives, the fire marshal and the structural engineer will need them to work together to gets some things done pretty rapidly to either knock down or secure a portion of the building so we can reopen Railroad Avenue.”

Clark Feed & Seed, which is located next door to Hohl along Railroad Avenue, was unable to open Tuesday due to safety concerns, but employees were allowed limited access to care for the fish in the store.

“We don’t want the wind to pick up or anything to apply force on the walls (at Hohl) that could cause them to fall out front into Railroad Avenue or fall out back into the alley or fall into Clark’s,” Hewett said. “We’re working on some plans to make sure that won’t happen so that we can open Railroad and Clark’s can open again. That’s a high priority for us.”

Hewett said the fish tanks at Clark Feed & Seed did lose power for several hours during Monday’s fire, but electricity to the store was restored in time and it “sounds like there haven’t been any losses.”

Bellingham Fire crews prevented greater loss of animal life at Hohl Feed & Seed, rescuing 78 animals from the store. They were unable to rescue approximately 10 birds and a snake, Hewett said.

“A lot of those 10 birds were in a back area that wasn’t accessible during the fire due to safety reasons or they weren’t in individual cages that we could grab and remove,” Hewett said.

As previously reported in The Herald, first reports of what turned out to be a two-alarm fire were received at 4:20 a.m. Monday morning.

Fire crews arrived to find the alley-side of the building that was built in 1902 in flames. Crews had difficulty accessing the second story from inside and were forced to pull back and fight the blaze defensively. The fire also spread to a second, newer building and an old granary behind the building that were both part of Hohl Feed and Seed.

Puget Sound Energy reported that power was cut to 196 downtown businesses for a few hours as crews battled the fire.

Hohl Feed & Seed has anchored Railroad Avenue since it was founded in 1901, providing Whatcom County a variety of pet and animal products.

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.

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.