Massive fire destroys Lake Samish homes

A towering three-alarm fire destroyed two waterfront homes and damaged a third Thursday afternoon, June 11, on the south shore of Lake Samish.

Neighbors said the fire started in a mobile home on Shallow Shore Road, while the house-sitting friends of the tenants were out on a barge in the lake enjoying a glorious sunny day around 3:30 p.m. The renters, a couple in their 20s, were in Barcelona for their wedding this week.

Passersby saw smoke and an orange glow coming from the wooden walkway that leads to 326 Shallow Shore. They tried to warn anyone who might be inside that house, or the neighboring homes.

“There was nobody in there,” said Rachel Cook, 21. “I was screaming: ‘Get out!’”

Others grabbed garden hoses and stood on the roofs of neighboring houses — an A-frame to the south, a faded sea-green lakefront house to the north at 330 Shallow Shore — to try to keep the flames under control. Soon they found that would be impossible, as stiff northward gusts of wind rapidly intensified the fire, and swept it into a row of tall, dry trees. Then it spread to 330 Shallow Shore.

“We were scared it was just going to take out house after house after house,” said Buck Fowler, a neighbor across the street.

A giant pillar of thick black smoke towered over the south end of the lake as firefighters rolled up to the scene. Bystanders shook their heads and watched.

“When we first came down here, it was just so black,” said Melanee Schwind, 42, a neighbor. “It was — it was amazing how fast it went.”

More than a dozen fire engines and 40 firefighters responded to the scene. The street has no fire hydrants, so firefighters from the South Whatcom, South Lake Whatcom and Bellingham fire departments rotated in water tenders on the narrow two-lane street.

Flaming embers and debris, swept north by wind, landed on the roof of a third home at 342 Shallow Shore. Fowler let neighbors stretch his hose across the street to keep it from growing into a full-blown fire, as firefighters were still preoccupied by the two other burning homes. Part of the roof had to be cut away, a loss of about $5,000, said Bellingham Assistant Fire Chief Bill Hewett.

The other two homes, valued at $26,000 and $120,000, were total losses. Nothing remained standing at the mobile home; the house still had some charred walls but nothing salvageable. Both properties are owned by David Lezetc, according to assessor’s records. He was not at home.

No residents were hurt, and the tenants’ dog was unharmed.

“At least their dog was safe,” said Maddie Henley, a friend of the tenants. “That’s like their child, their dog-child.”

Two firefighters were treated at the scene for heat exhaustion.

The cause of the fire remained unknown Thursday. An investigation will be led by the county fire marshal’s office.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Dispatcher blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog and follow him on Twitter at @bhamcaleb.