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Chief on Clark, Avalon fire investigation: ‘Our No. 1 concern is for their safety’

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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Fire investigators are still waiting to dig into what may have started Wednesday evening’s three-alarm fire that significantly damaged iconic downtown businesses Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records.

“We’ve done everything we can from the exterior,” Bellingham Fire Department interim chief Bill Hewett told The Bellingham Herald Friday, July 19. “Now we have to wait for the structural evaluation so we can develop a plan to go inside and get a look.”

Hewett said fire investigators were hoping to speak to structural engineers on Friday so they can begin forming that plan.

“It probably won’t be until Monday or Tuesday until we get enough analysis to actually get in there,” Hewett said.

Until that happens, Hewett said there would be no update on the cause of the fire.

On Thursday, Bellingham Fire captain Dave Pethick told The Herald that investigators had found a broad “area of origin” for the fire, where they planned to intensify their efforts to find more details and narrow the area down to give them a cause of what started the fire.

Hewett said police and fire investigators have been on the scene to make sure that nobody attempts to get into the damaged structure, though he said overall, everybody has been respectful.

“I know the business owners — it’s hard to have patience,” Hewett told The Herald. “I understand that they want to get in anD get an understanding of the loss, but they’ve been working with us through the process. We’ve had some real positive interactions with them. Our No. 1 concern is for their safety, and I think they understand that.

“We all want some finality because many people know and love these businesses.”

Firefighters battle the three-alarm Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records fire Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in downtown Bellingham, Wash.

Landmark businesses burn

As previously reported in The Herald: More the first of 20 fire units from around Whatcom County responded to 1326 Railroad Ave. after the call for a smoke investigation was made at 7:16 p.m. Wednesday. Bellingham Fire assistant chief Jay Comfort the response quickly was upgraded to fire suppression.

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

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 firefighter safety. Crews attempted to keep flames from spreading to Avalon Records, Pethick said, but by 8:44 p.m. crews were also fighting flames defensively at Avalon.

Vienna Cleaners, which is adjacent to Clark and Avalon, also suffered some smoke damage, but was open on Thursday.

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Bellingham Fire crews remain downtown at the scene of the Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records fire earlier this week in Bellingham. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Not the first fire

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.

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.

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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