Crime

Investigation shows Hohl fire may have started by ‘an intentional or careless act’

Here’s what remains of Hohl Feed & Seed

Fire officials said the fire that destroyed Hohl Feed & Seed in Bellingham, Wash., on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, was not accidental and likely was caused by a person.
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Fire officials said the fire that destroyed Hohl Feed & Seed in Bellingham, Wash., on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, was not accidental and likely was caused by a person.

Monday morning’s fire that destroyed Hohl Feed & Seed in downtown Bellingham was started outside in the alley under suspicious circumstances, according to an investigation team from the Bellingham Police and Fire departments that has been processing the scene along Railroad Avenue.

According to a joint press release from the departments, the investigation of the scene determined the fire started on the outside of the historic building in the alley. Investigators were unable to locate any electrical or heat sources at the fire’s origin, indicating that it was not accidental and that it likely was caused by a person, the release said.

A security video provided by a neighboring business confirmed that there was a person in the area where the fire started minutes before 911 was called and first units were dispatched at 4:20 a.m., according to the release.

“The loss of such an iconic and historic downtown business is felt throughout the entire Whatcom County area,” Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Newbold said in the release. “To find out that it was potentially started by either an intentional or careless act by a person just adds to the devastation we are feeling as a community.”

Investigators are seeking the community’s help in identifying who was in the alley before the fire started, according to the release, and are asking anybody with information about the fire or who was in the area before the fire to contact Detective Kelsh at 360-778-8690. Tips also can be submitted on the Bellingham Police Tip line at 360-778-8611 or online at cob.org/tips.

As previously reported in The Herald, fire crews arrived to find the alley-side of the building that was built in 1902 in flames. Crews had difficulty accessing the second story from inside and were forced to pull back and fight the blaze defensively. The fire also spread to a second, newer building and an old granary behind the building that were both part of Hohl Feed & Seed.

Firefighters were able to rescue 78 animals from the fire, though Bellingham Fire Assistant Chief Bill Hewett said crews were not able to get to approximately 10 birds and a snake and still have not been able to reach those areas of the building to confirm their fate.

Hohl smolder
Firefighters return Wednesday to Hohl Seed & Feed to douse smoldering rubble at the downtown business that burned Monday in Bellingham. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Firefighters were called to return to the fire scene at 12:59 p.m. Wednesday, according to PulsePoint, to douse smoldering rubble. Hewett said this was not uncommon for a large fire such as this.

“Our team is still on the scene keeping an eye on everything, and a couple of times they’ve called an engine company to take care of a flare up,” Hewett told The Bellingham Herald, adding that an engine also was called at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Hewett also told The Herald that the fire marshal’s office is working with Public Works and an engineering firm on a plan to reopen Railroad Avenue to northbound traffic either later Wednesday or Thursday. The road has been closed as a safety precaution since the fire, but Hewett said plans are to route northbound traffic through the parking spots along the median to keep it a safe distance away from the structure.

Hohl Feed & Seed has anchored Railroad Avenue since it was founded in 1901, providing Whatcom County a variety of pet and animal products.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
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