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‘Just keep swimming,’ landmark business posts on social media after damaging fire

Drone footage shows devastation at Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records

Drone footage over Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records shows the devastation of both buildings the day after crews responded to a three-alarm fire Wednesday night, July 18, 2019, in Bellingham, Wash.
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Drone footage over Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records shows the devastation of both buildings the day after crews responded to a three-alarm fire Wednesday night, July 18, 2019, in Bellingham, Wash.

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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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On Feb. 18, Larry Oltmann, who has operated Clark Feed & Seed for 44 years, watched as the iconic business next door to his along Railroad Avenue was destroyed by fire.

Who would have guessed that nearly five months to the day later, it would be his business that was filled with flames and smoke?

Clark Feed & Seed thanked the community for its support in a Facebook post made Thursday, July 18, less than 12 hours after firefighters from throughout Whatcom County battled a three-alarm blaze at the landmark business.

“Dear community,” the post read. “We want to extend heartfelt thanks for all of the care offered and the well wishes we are receiving. No staff were present when the fire overtook the building. We do not know yet if any of the beloved fish have survived.

“The cause of the fire is still unknown at this point, as well. We appreciate everyone’s concern and will post updates as we can. Just keep swimming.”

An outpouring of social media support for the business was immediate, even as flames were still damaging the building. While many posts lamented losing another beloved downtown landmark business so recently after neighboring Hohl Feed & Seed was gutted by a two-alarm fire, others showed concern for the owners, the employees and, of course, the fish.

According to its Facebook page, Clark had more than 13,000 tropical freshwater and saltwater aquariums full of fish and plants, and it often posted videos and pictures of them.

Bellingham Fire Department caption Dave Pethick called the smoke and water damage to Clark and neighboring Avalon Records “significant,” but said there were different pockets inside the businesses that were affected less and that some inventory even might be able to be uncovered and saved.

Pethick said firefighters were able to carry a few Beta fish that were still alive and in little jars from the fire scene Thursday, but the fate of rest of the fish, who had been without power to run filter and aeration since Wednesday, wasn’t known.

“Once we get in there, we’ll know a little more,” Pethick said.

Avalon Records also posted pictures and a video from inside the store on Thursday on its Facebook page, saying, “A total loss,” in the post. As with Clark, the community outpouring of support and sadness over the damage in the fire via social media was extensive for Avalon, which has been in downtown Bellingham since 1986.

A gofundme.com account was established for Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records by Chase Neilan on Thursday, hoping to raise $50,000.

The Bellingham Herald has extended an invitation via email to Oltmann to speak about Wednesday’s fire.

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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