Crime

Six people woke up choking on smoke as this Bellingham home burned. They all lived

A fire destroyed this single-wide mobile home near Bellis Fair mall Tuesday morning. The six people staying inside escaped unharmed.
A fire destroyed this single-wide mobile home near Bellis Fair mall Tuesday morning. The six people staying inside escaped unharmed. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Six people were lucky to escape a burning single-wide mobile home near Bellis Fair mall Tuesday morning, a city fire official said.

The home at 4015 Eliza Ave., in the Bakerview Mobile Estates neighborhood, went up in flames sometime before 4 a.m., said Bill Hewett, assistant chief with the Bellingham Fire Department.

Stowe Reynolds, 43, the homeowner, woke up choking on smoke in his bedroom at the back of the home, he said by phone Tuesday evening. He had no idea what time he woke up, he added.

We were very lucky all six were able to evacuate from the building.

Assistant Chief Bill Hewett, Bellingham Fire Department

He opened the door and looked down the hallway to see flames about 15 feet away, he said. His daughter, Olivia, 14, stayed in the room nearby. Reynold’s friend, his friend’s wife and their two children, who were visiting, were sleeping in the living room just beyond the flames.

“I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to get there,’ ” Reynolds said of his daughter’s bedroom, adding that the flames reached the ceiling. “But then I realized there was no way I could get through that flame.”

Reynolds slammed his bedroom door shut, and, wearing nothing but his underwear, dove out his bedroom window to the back of the house, and went around to his daughter’s bedroom window. She already had climbed through the window and he found her standing outside, scared, he said.

Reynold’s friends had escaped through the front door.

With temperatures near freezing, Reynolds and others fanned out through the neighborhood and began pounding on doors asking for help. All had left their phones inside the house.

“People were probably freaking out when we were knocking on doors,” he said. “I was in my underwear, and they were probably like, ‘Who’s this maniac?’ 

It was nearly 40 minutes, Reynolds said, before they found a phone. A 911 call went out at 3:49 a.m., Hewett said.

The group briefly tried to use a hose to put out the fire, but freezing temperatures kept it from working. A neighbor loaned Reynolds a pair of pants, boots and a jacket.

Fire crews arrived seven minutes after the call came in, Hewett said. By that point, flames were shooting out of every opening in the house. They reached branches in the trees above, Reynolds said. It took crews 20 minutes to put the fire out, and another hour and 15 minutes to put out the remaining hotspots, Hewett said.

Crews from Whatcom County Fire District 8 also helped fight the blaze, Hewett said.

The heat from the fire damaged two neighbors’ cars, and Reynold’s vehicle was ruined, too, he said. He doesn’t think he has fire insurance, he added.

Smoke detectors didn’t go off in the house, Hewett said. The home had them, Reynolds said, but they likely didn’t have working batteries.

The local Red Cross helped find emergency housing at a hotel for Reynold’s friends. Reynolds was offered the same, he said, but opted to stay with a cousin who lived nearby.

The fire is still under investigation, said Ron Richard, City of Bellingham fire marshal. Investigators suspect it was a malfunction related to the space heaters plugged into the home’s electrical system.

Given the size of the house, how quickly it burned and the lack of alarm systems, it could have been worse, Hewett said.

“We were very lucky all six were able to evacuate from the building,” he said.

Prince Hansen, Reyonlds’ son, created a GoFundMe page to collect money to pay for the damage. Donors can go to gofundme.com/help-to-provide-my-father to donate.

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan

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