Crime

Thieves steal valuables, family photos from victims of Bellingham duplex fire

Somebody stole thousands of dollars in electronics and children’s belongings from the victims of a duplex fire on Undine Street.

It’s hard to imagine a worse week than the one Dustin Stump and his wife Melissa Montgomery have had. He was working on his computer on the afternoon of Monday, April 13, and Montgomery was feeding their two-week-old baby, Eloise, when they heard a teenage neighbor boy in the lawn at 2844 Undine St. yelling that his kitchen was on fire.

“We thought we’d just wait and see if it was maybe something small,” said Montgomery, 31. “It smelled like a fast-food joint, like grease.”

Moments later the boy pounded on the front door and told them their unit was on fire, too. So they loaded baby formula and clothes into a diaper bag, and ran outside to their car. Before fire engines reached the scene they’d parked along Illinois Street, to keep their baby from breathing in the smoke, and watched the black column rising into the sky. After a while they went to get some coffee to calm down.

Fire investigators believe Richard Pace, 16, forgot he’d left a pot of cooking oil on the stove around 3 p.m. He went upstairs to watch some videos. He was doing so with his cat, Luna, on his lap when the smoke alarm went off, according to the Bellingham Fire Department. He and his father escaped unharmed. Richard said the cat was running outside with him as he left, but firefighters weren’t sure if the cat made it. Another teenage boy lives there but he wasn’t home at the time.

The fire gutted Pace’s home, causing at least $100,000 in damage, and while the attached unit on the north side fared somewhat better, there was smoke damage and an inch of standing water on the first floor from the fire hoses, said Bellingham Fire Marshal Jason Napier. So Montgomery and Stump, 36, weren’t allowed back in until later in the week.

Firefighters brought out some things for them — a laptop and baby clothes, for example — as they mopped up the fire. Stump, Montgomery and their kids, Eloise and Dominic, 10, stayed the night with family in Sumas. Since then the local chapter of the American Red Cross has helped them to find more permanent housing.

On Thursday afternoon Stump was told he could go back in to collect some things. Montgomery needed to wait outside in the car with her kids.

“I’m a frantic person,” Montgomery said, “when it comes to my house burning down. I guess all people would be.”

Stump found a sliding glass door open on the back side of the house. A big ashy footprint had been left near one of the windows. Missing were a baby stroller, three computers custom-built by Stump, a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen TV, an LCD monitor in their 10-year-old son’s room, and a file server full of family photos.

Two monitors were left behind. The family hadn’t had a chance, as of Friday, to conduct a more thorough search to determine if others valuables were stolen. Neither home will be habitable without repairs — and it will take extensive repairs to fix 2842 Undine. Pace’s family had renter’s insurance, according to the city fire department. Stump’s did not.

Friends have asked if they wanted to set up a fundraiser. They haven’t yet. As for their thoughts on thieves, they’re not quite sure how to feel.

“If they needed something so bad, like a baby stroller, they could have come and talked to us, we’re nice,” Montgomery said. “I don’t like to assume things about people.”

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