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Cord powering space heater in boat led to $500,000 fire near Custer

A large fire at a storage facility north of Ferndale was sparked by an extension cord that fed into a space heater in a boat, according to the Whatcom County Fire Marshal’s Office.

Smoke, flame and heat caused a half-million dollars in damage Tuesday morning, Dec. 16, at a converted metal barn in the 1800 block of Harksell Road, east of Custer.

Among the losses: three boats, a van and a one-ton pickup. The most serious damage — both structural and to belongings — was contained to the middle unit. The origin was traced to an extension cord that malfunctioned, said Will Anderson, an investigator with the fire marshal’s office. It had been powering an oil-filled radiant space heater. The unattended heater had been inside a highly flammable fiberglass ski boat to keep it warm, according to the fire marshal’s office.

Unattended space heaters are a common cause of fires, especially in winter. Also, people need to be aware that they can’t use extension cords for a heater, Anderson said. If you use a plug-in heater, power it through a wall outlet, or at least use a cord with a circuit breaker that will shut off it overloads.

In the Harksell Road fire, firefighters managed to save most of the property in neighboring units, including several antique steamboats. Those boats sustained little, if any, smoke damage, Anderson said.