A basement fire with explosions displaced five people at a duplex Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 5, in the Sehome neighborhood of Bellingham.
A woman living in one of two upper floor apartments at 908 Key St. noticed smoke coming from the basement around 5:20 p.m. Her significant other went downstairs with a fire extinguisher to put out any flames, said Bellingham Assistant Fire Chief Bill Hewett.
The basement is a shared storage room, where a kerosene heater had been left on, Hewett said. Other flammable items – a gas can, propane tanks – were also stored in the room. Exactly how the basement erupted into flames remains under investigation, but the heater is suspected as a likely source.
The man with the extinguisher suffered minor burns and singed hair from the heat of the flames, Hewett said. He declined medical aid. Two other people were home at the time and were unharmed.
Neighbors saw the residents outside the house trying to douse the flames with a garden hose until fire engines from around the city rolled up. Over the next 20 minutes crews battled the blaze from outside as they struggled to determine if it would be safe to enter. Black smoke poured out the basement door, and flames rolled through the basement.
The fire was knocked down around 5:50 p.m., once firefighters were able to get inside. The basement took most of the damage, Hewett said. The top floor had smoke damage and will be uninhabitable for now.
A total of five people live in the building: a family of three in one unit, and two roommates in the other.
The home was built in 1966, and had an appraised value around $135,000, according to the Whatcom County Assessor.