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‘Our house was burnt down to nothing’ woman says of one of five home fires across county

Whatcom home a total loss in fire

A Whatcom County, Wash., couple lost their home and dog in a June 5, 2019 fire. Flames were showing when North Whatcom Fire and Rescue was called and the home was a total loss.
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A Whatcom County, Wash., couple lost their home and dog in a June 5, 2019 fire. Flames were showing when North Whatcom Fire and Rescue was called and the home was a total loss.

Over the past week, a Whatcom County woman lost her life and others lost their homes in five home fires across the county.

Most recently, firefighters with the Bellingham Fire Department responded to the 2300 block of Utter Street for a fire at a single-family residence on Tuesday afternoon. It was reported that there was an explosion in a back room, according to Assistant Chief Jay Comfort.

Comfort said when crews arrived on scene, they found smoke coming from the eaves and roof line of the home. He said the firefighter’s efforts were complicated because the homeowner had “so much content” inside that it was hard for them to move around, and ultimately couldn’t get in through the back door.

Comfort said the older construction of the home meant it had no fire stops in it, so firefighters had to spend time digging through the walls for any hotspots. He said it ended up being a difficult and drawn-out process lasting more than four hours.

No one was injured and the occupant got out safely, Comfort said. The home was not considered a total loss, but the damage was estimated to be around $70,000.

At the same time as the Utter Street fire, crews with Bellingham Fire were also responding to a three-alarm fire in the 2100 block of Alabama for an apartment complex fire. That fire closed nearby streets, caused the evacuation of the residents in the complex and ultimately damaged three units in the building. One person was also injured and taken to the hospital.

Bellingham Fire Captain Dave Pethick said the fire department sees increasing call volumes year after year.

“This increases the likelihood that Bellingham Fire will respond to multiple fires, or multiple medical calls that tax our system,” Pethick said. “Our firefighters and paramedics work diligently to get back in service for the next call. However, if needed, like on Tuesday, mutual aid from neighboring departments along with the hiring back of our off-duty firefighters and paramedics help us through times of surging call loads.”

A week prior, on June 5, count fire department crews with North Whatcom Fire and Rescue and Fire District 1 also responded to reports of fires that came in around the same time.

Shortly before 3 p.m. on June 5, crews with Whatcom County Fire District 1 were called to the 5900 block of Edith Drive in Deming for a fire that started in the back of a house. The fire burned for so long, a cause could not be determined, according to a fire investigator with the Whatcom County Fire Marshal’s office.

Angelita E. Aure, 60, died from smoke inhalation from the fire. Aure had limited mobility due to health issues, according to Whatcom County Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Goldfogel.

0606 Edith drive fatal fire
Angelita E. Aure’s Deming home caught fire June 5 in Whatcom County. Aure died in the fire from smoke inhalation. A small memorial with balloons and flowers was placed in front of her home June 6. Denver Pratt The Bellingham Herald

A little more than a half-hour after crews were called to the fire on Edith Drive, crews from North Whatcom Fire and Rescue were called to the 6500 block of Tut Terrace for report of flames showing from a house.

The house ended up being a total loss, and crews were on scene for several hours. The couple who lived there, Shelby Shelby Cammack, 20, and Scott Kimbrough, 22, lost one of their dogs to the fire. Cammack and Kimbrough, who are set to be married on July 13, lost all of their wedding decorations, including their wedding rings, in the blaze.

The couple said they were overwhelmed to lose everything in the fire, but were grateful for the support of those who rallied around them.

Tiny home burns

In between the two sets of mid-week fires, another local couple in Deming had their tiny home burn to the ground on June 8.

Renna Fir and Stephen Harvey, commonly known as Wonder, said they had recently moved into a tiny home they began building themselves in April in Deming. The home they were building was a pilot project for a tiny home building project they’ve started, Fir said. They were in the process of completing the interior and some of the flooring, Fir said.

Fir said she and Harvey share similar values in living a minimalist lifestyle and they were trying to reduce their ecological footprint.

Fir said she bought a three-way propane refrigerator and had it mailed to her. The appliance has a pilot light, so an active flame, Fir said. She lit the first one and said it blew up in her face. It started a small fire, but she was able to put it out. She boxed it up and sent it back, Fir said.

After she complained, the company tried reaching out to the manufacturers, but had no luck, so they sent her a replacement, Fir said.

“I accepted the offer thinking that the odds are low that it would happen again,” she said.

Fir lit the pilot on the new appliance and watched it all day and into the night, she said. The following day she traveled down to Seattle to meet Harvey.

“I got a call from the fire department that said our house had blown up,” Fir said. “Luckily we weren’t in it. But our house was burnt down to nothing, and now we have this experience of responding to it.”

Fir said tiny houses are in the gray area of building permits, and because they’re considered homemade units, they couldn’t get homeowners insurance. She said after the fire, she became aware of recent state legislation that allows for independent tiny home insurance companies, and that she has been in touch with them.

“This happening to the pilot project is definitely an indicator of need for thoughtfulness and wanting to create a good plan moving forward in this,” Fir said.

Harvey said they still have to clean up the site from the damage left by the fire before they attempt to start again.

Accidental house fires are a serious safety threat. Learn how to cut down your risk by exercising these simple prevention tips.

Safety tips

Pethick, with Bellingham Fire, said house fires can occur at any time of the year, but there are things a homeowner can do to reduce the chances of fire, such as maintaining appliances and properly discarding of smoking or hot materials. Pethick said preparation is key in protecting yourself and your home.

“First, every home should have working smoke detectors and they should be properly maintained according to the manufacturer specifications. Second, finding a class on how to use a fire extinguisher can keep a small fire from becoming a catastrophic fire,” Pethick said.

Pethick said the department recommends taking a course on how to properly use a fire extinguisher should one ever be needed. He said no matter how a fire starts, a person should leave the house and call 911 from a safe location.

“Once you leave your house, we do not want you to go back inside. Fires grow exponentially and can become deadly very quickly. Your family should also have a plan on how to exit the home during a fire,” Pethick said. “That plan should include two ways out, a known meeting place, and absolutely needs to be practiced before an event to be most effective.”

Spelling of Shelby Cammack’s name corrected June 18, 2019.

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.
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