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‘The house has a little history,’ fire chief says of Chuckanut Drive two-alarm blaze

Structure fire burns along Chuckanut Drive

South Whatcom Fire Authority and Bellingham Fire Department crews respond to a two-alarm structure fire the 900 block of Chuckanut Drive near the north end of Larrabee State Park south of Bellingham, Wash., early Wednesday, April 10, 2019.
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South Whatcom Fire Authority and Bellingham Fire Department crews respond to a two-alarm structure fire the 900 block of Chuckanut Drive near the north end of Larrabee State Park south of Bellingham, Wash., early Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

A couple in their 50s and 60s suffered minor injuries and likely lost a pair of pets when the house they were renting along Chuckanut Drive south of Bellingham was destroyed in a two-alarm fire early Wednesday, April 10.

“The house has a little history,” South Whatcom Fire Authority chief Dave Ralston told The Bellingham Herald. “Neighbors told us that the house had a fire a little over 30 years ago, so it was the second time that house has burned.”

Ralston said crews from South Whatcom Fire and the Bellingham Fire Department were dispatched at 1:12 a.m. Wednesday to the 900 block of Chuckanut Drive. Bellingham’s Engine 2 was the first to arrive on scene at 1:21.

“They reported a fully-involved residential fire with flames visible,” Ralston said, adding that the second alarm was sounded shortly after first crews were on scene to get more personnel and equipment on the scene.

The renters had already exited the home by the time crews arrived, Ralston said, though the woman, who helped get one dog out, went back inside when she couldn’t find the man. He had already exited the home, and the two soon reunited.

Ralston said the woman suffered burns to her back and the man scraped his ankle while hopping a fence. Both were taken to St. Joseph’s hospital for treatment and evaluation and have since been released.

Unfortunately, the couple was not able to rescue another pet dog and cat. Ralston said it is suspected both were lost in the fire.

Julia Stark, who lives across the street from the fire, said she was still awake and unwinding from work at the time of the blaze.

“I heard some pops and an explosion,” she told The Bellingham Herald. “I thought it was gunshots or fireworks or something.”

Stark went to the window and said she saw the “whole house on fire,” prompting her to call 911, stay on the phone until first responders arrived and yell across the street that the fire department was on the way.

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Fire crews continue Wednesday morning to work the scene of a two-alarm structure fire in the 900 block of Chuckanut Drive south of Bellingham. Julia Stark Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Ralston said it is believed that the fire started in the back of the house and spread to the kitchen and ended up being a complete loss.

“We went defensive on it right away,” Ralston told The Herald. “It was an older-design home with split, multiple levels, and it became unstable, so we basically had to stay outside putting water on it and let it burn itself out.”

While crews were putting water on the house, flames burned a power line to the house and ended up popping a transformer, causing it to spark.

Ralston said there were no injuries to any of the fire crews that responded, but they had to remain on scene throughout the morning to handle flare-ups.

The Washington State Department of Transportation is reporting that northbound and southbound traffic along Chuckanut Drive is alternating south of Yacht Club Road while fire crews are on scene.

Stark said the house was still smoking and smoldering shortly before 9 a.m. and that at approximately 6 a.m. she saw some flames.

“I’ve been up all night keeping an eye on it,” Stark told The Herald. “We live right across the street and the train tracks, and I wanted to make sure no ash or sparks landed on our house.”

Though Stark said she has not met the residents of the house that burned, her stepfather had spoken with them before Wednesday. Ralston said Red Cross has been called to help relocate the residents.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, Ralston said, and a Whatcom County fire investigator was on the scene.

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.


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