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Three-alarm fire burns two landmark businesses in downtown Bellingham

Clark Feed & Seed burns next to ruin of Hohl Feed & Seed

The Bellingham Fire Department responds to a fire July 17, 2019, at Clark Feed & Seed on Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham, Wash. The business shares a wall with the ruin of Hohl Feed & Seed, which burned on Feb. 18, 2019.
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The Bellingham Fire Department responds to a fire July 17, 2019, at Clark Feed & Seed on Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham, Wash. The business shares a wall with the ruin of Hohl Feed & Seed, which burned on Feb. 18, 2019.

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Clark Feed & Seed, Avalon Records fire

A fire the evening of July 17, 2019, significantly damaged landmark downtown business Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records.

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Thursday update: Fire crews remain on scene.

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The Bellingham Fire Department battled a three-alarm fire throughout the night Wednesday, July 17, at Clark Feed and Seed on Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham. The fire also spread next door to Avalon Records.

According to the initial report on the PulsePoint app, crews responded to a commercial fire at Clark Feed and Seed at 1326 Railroad Ave. at 7:16 p.m.

Ten minutes later, Bellingham Fire tweeted that “crews are in route to a working fire,” and that updates would follow.

“They got here quick, and they’re working hard,” assistant chief Jay Comfort told The Bellingham Herald.

No civilians were injured in the fire, Bellingham Fire captain Dave Pethick told The Herald, but one firefighter was taken to St. Joseph’s hospital due to exhaustion and for observation. Pethick said he did not know which fire fighting company the firefighter was from.

Pethick said the status of the animals and fish at Clark Feed and Seed was not known on Wednesday night.

Fire crews from South Whatcom Fire Authority, North Whatcom Fire and Rescue and Whatcom County Fire District 7 joined Bellingham Fire in battling the blaze,with 20 units were on scene.

Comfort said crews were originally called for a smoke investigation at Clark, but quickly upgraded the incident to fire suppression.

Pethick said the first fire crews arrived and entered Clark Feed and Seed to fight the fire offensively.

But by 7:50 p.m., it was determined to pull fire crews out of the building and fight the fire defensively in the interest of safety. Crews also attempted to keep the fire from spreading to Avalon Records, Pethick said.

“Whenever we go defensive, I expect there to be extensive damage,” Pethick said.

At 8:03 p.m., Bellingham Fire tweeted that it had sounded a third alarm for the fire, as crews battled from two sides.

Efforts to save Avalon were unsuccessful, as Pethick said fire in both stores was being fought defensively by 8:44 p.m.

Shortly after 9 p.m., a second ladder truck was brought in to put water on the fire from above on the East Magnolia Street side.

Pethick said he believes Vienna Cleaners also had been impacted by the fire and smoke.

At 11:15 p.m., Pethick said fire response was being reduced to one engine and one ladder truck and crew were just trying to put out the last few hot spots. Crews were preparing to do a primary search to make sure nobody was inside at the time of the fire and would remain on scene the rest of the night.

Both Clark and Avalon suffered heavy fire, smoke, heat and water damage, Pethick said, but the roof did not collapse.

The cause of the fire was unknown on Wednesday night, Pethick said, though fire investigators were on the scene.

Bellingham Fire Captain Dave Pethick updates media on the Clark Feed & Seed fire at 10 p.m. Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in downtown Bellingham, Wash.

Heavy black and brown smoke and at times flames were visible from the roof at the feed store and later Avalon Records before sunset, and a smokey haze filled much of downtown, as fire crews continued to battle the blaze.

The Bellingham Police Department tweeted that it had closed northbound Railroad Avenue for the rest of the night. Lt. Claudia Murphy told The Herald that east Magnolia Street also would remain closed while fire crews were on scene.

A follow-up tweet at 10:01 p.m. said east Magnolia had been closed between Cornwall Avenue and State Street and advised avoiding the area to prevent breathing the smoke.

But a crowd of at least 200 people gathered to watch fire crews work, though firefighters cautioned the crowd that the thick smoke from the fire could be dangerous.

Social media posts on The Herald Facebook page showed an outpouring of sadness for the landmark business in downtown and concern for the fish at Clark that many Bellingham residents grew up watching.

According to the Clark Feed & Seed Facebook page, the store has more than 13,000 gallons of tropical freshwater and saltwater aquariums filled with many different kinds of fish and plants.

Wednesday’s fire comes nearly five months to the day after Hohl Feed & Seed, a store that shared a wall with Clark, was destroyed by fire on Feb. 18. Two alarms were called on that fire.

Comfort told The Herald that Wednesday’s third alarm was called at Clark in part because of the Hohl fire and the remaining parts of that building that are still standing.

The Hohl fire was determined to have been started by a transient who was attempting to get warm. On Feb. 28, Bellingham Police booked Paul Jonathon Wolfe into Whatcom County Jail on suspicion of first-degree felony reckless burning.

Wolfe, 56, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, according to court records. Wolfe got credit for time served and was released from jail in March, according to Whatcom County Jail records.

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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.
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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