Fire damages old Georgia-Pacific building in Bellingham

A fire at the old Georgia-Pacific site on Bellingham’s waterfront damaged the third floor of an abandoned alcohol plant Saturday evening, Dec. 13.

Passers-by in downtown Bellingham saw smoke and flames shooting out the windows of the six-story brick building at 5:58 p.m.

City firefighters brought two ladder trucks, two fire engines and an ambulance. Seventeen firefighters battled the flames defensively, from the outside, because of the building’s deteriorating interior. The building has open elevator shafts and holes in the floor, for example, said Assistant Fire Chief Bill Hewett.

Flames were knocked down within a half-hour, using large-volume streams from nozzles mounted on the ladder trucks. Firefighters continued to douse hot spots for another hour or so. Rail lines were shut down until firefighters finished mopping up.

No one was hurt. Most of the damage was contained to one room on the third floor, on the northeast side of the 141- by 50-foot building.

Inside, firefighters found signs that someone had been squatting in the room, Hewett said. The building, owned by the Port of Bellingham, had no electricity.

“That pretty much leads you to believe there’s going to be some human involvement in the cause,” Hewett said.

No one was seen fleeing the scene. It was well past sundown when the fire broke out.

A damage estimate wasn’t available Saturday.

Construction on the alcohol plant finished in 1943. It was used to make ethyl alcohol from pulp mill waste. At one time industrial workers at Georgia-Pacific West churned out 650 tons of lignin and alcohol per day.

Georgia-Pacific’s last operating factory on the waterfront, a tissue mill, shut down in 2007. The site is now the focus of an ambitious cleanup and redevelopment project.