Fire guts wood-finishing and paint business off Kentucky Street

Fire destroys part of Towne Painting business in Bellingham

A two-alarm fire gutted Towne Painting, a wood-finishing business at 2116 Queen St., early Thursday, July 14, 2016.
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A two-alarm fire gutted Towne Painting, a wood-finishing business at 2116 Queen St., early Thursday, July 14, 2016.

A two-alarm fire ripped through Towne Painting early Thursday, July 14, a wood-finishing shop in the industrial area north of downtown.

The blaze was reported at 1:30 a.m. Thursday in the two-story 2,000-square-foot building at 2116 Queen St. Crews from Bellingham Fire, Whatcom County Fire District 8 and South Whatcom Fire Authority fought the fire, which required the effort of some 35 firefighters, according to the emergency services app Pulse Point.

No injuries were reported and the cause was undetermined pending an investigation, Bellingham Fire said.

The firewall saved the whole north side of the building.

Norm Chamberlin, who rents a neighboring unit

Assistant Chief Bill Hewett said the fire started in a loft above the warehouse floor. He said the owner was sleeping there and awoke to find his mattress smoldering. He tried unsuccessfully to fight the fire with water and an extinguisher, then opened a roll-up door to let the smoke out – but that gave the fire oxygen to burn freely. The owner then ran to a friend’s house nearby to call 911.

“He’s a very lucky guy,” Hewett said. “Engine 4 came up in the back alley there, when they pulled up, the overhead door was open and they had flames rolling out the door.”

Later, fire caused the door to fall and firefighters had to cut it open to gain entry, Hewett said.

Hewett said the first crews poured water from the outside to keep the flames from spreading to neighboring businesses only a few feet away. The next engine company went to the front of the building on Queen Street and saw “heavy fire blowing out of the upstairs window,” he said.

“The firewall saved the whole north side of the building,” said Norm Chamberlin, who rents a workshop storage unit in the same building.

His property suffered minor damage from water that leaked under the firewall. Fire damage was contained to the Towne Painting side of the building, which was gutted by flames but remained standing.

Hewett said the bulk of the fire was doused in 25 minutes, and firefighters went inside to finish the job.

A small SUV parked in front of the business was damaged.

Towne Painting’s portion of the building contained wood trim and flammable liquids, Chamberlin said.

Chamberlin said Towne Painting contracts to Bellingham Millwork Supply Co., Builders Alliance and other local businesses. Towne Painting was working on a big residential project at the time of the fire, Chamberlin said.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @goMittygo. Mittendorf is a volunteer firefighter with South Whatcom Fire Authority.