Fire investigator: Vacuum system caused Wednesday fire on Lahti Drive

A fire that ripped through a home just outside of Bellingham on Wednesday, May 6, was caused by a central home vacuum system in the garage that had a mechanical malfunction, Fire Marshal’s Office investigator Mitch Nolze said.

The house, located at 1392 Lahti Drive, is a complete loss, Nolze said. He estimated $350,000 in damage to the home and its contents and about $5,000 in damage to a neighbor’s property.

The fire started in the garage shortly before 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. The power unit of the home vacuum system was located in the garage, where the fire started. Nolze said either a switch was not turned off properly or there was an electrical fault that heated up combustible materials and ignited the flames.

Two workers who were doing siding work on the house first noticed the fire. One tried to put it out and sustained minor burns to his hand. The elderly owner of the home, Walter H. Kleffel, escaped unharmed. The local chapter of the American Red Cross was assisting him in finding a place to stay.

On Friday, May 8, a small fire started in the rubble of the home that was handled quickly, Nolze said. He said there must have been a hidden ember that caught fire, though he assured that firefighters checked the area thoroughly before leaving Wednesday.