Fire breaks out at downtown Bellingham store

Firefigthers work to control the fire that broke out at Clark Feed & Seed on July 17. // Photo By Zachary Jimenez

By Ally Burdett and Henry Stewart-Wood

A fire broke out around 7:20 p.m. downtown at Clark Feed & Seed on Railroad Avenue, on  Wednesday, July 17. The Bellingham Fire Department arrived on the scene but the fire escalated, spreading to the adjacent building Avalon Records, according to Fire Captain Dave Pethick.   

No civilians sustained any injuries from the fire, however, one firefighter was transported to St. Joseph hospital for exhaustion, according to Pethick.

Gray smoke poured out of Clark Feed & Seed, a pet store that specializes in aquatic animals and feed. It shares a wall with the remains of Hohl Feed and Seed which recently caught fire on Feb.18. 

By 8:03 p.m. the fire had grown to a three-alarm level and multiple units from Fire District 7, north and south Whatcom and Ferndale were called to the scene, according to Pethick.

There were dozens of fire and police units at the scene by 8 p.m. 

About an hour after the fire department responded to the calls of smoke, bright orange flames began to poke out of the roof of Clark Feed & Seed. Smoke filled the air surrounding the fire. 

Initially, firefighters were taking an offensive approach, meaning firefighters were inside the building fighting the blaze. At some point, the incident commander decided it was too dangerous to fight inside so the firefighters switched to a defensive approach, according to Pethick.

Firefigthers work to put out fire at Clark Feed & Seed on July 17. // Photo By Zachary Jimenez

The fire department then started to climb a ladder with a hose in hand to try and tackle the flames from above.

The fire continued to grow and then spread to the adjacent building, Avalon Records, said Pethick.

“We turned to specifically protect Avalon records. Avalon Records is now part of the fire, as it has spread to that building as well,” Pethick said. “I don’t know the full extent of the damage, but when it goes to defensive I would expect to see a lot of damage.”

Pethick said firefighters will most likely work through the night to get the blaze under control. 

It is too early to tell what caused the fire or if it was lit intentionally, as was the case with the Hohl Feed and Seed fire , but investigators were on the scene.  

Larry Oltmann, the owner of Clark Feed & Seed, said that he closed the store five minutes before there were any signs of smoke and said that there was nothing out of order. 

Although the cause of the fire remains under investigation, Oltmann said that “it’s an old building.” 

Oltmann also said that there were a lot of fish and only animals inside tanks of water within Clark Feed & Seed. 

Onlookers, on Railraoad Avenue, watch fire spread and firefighters working to control the blaze July 17. // Photo by Zachary Jimenez

Henry Gardner was a former employee at Clark Feed & Seed and worked there for about a year and a half. He was near the fire and noticed smoke in the air. 

“I walked out of my work which is right across the alley and saw a bunch of firefighters,” Gardner said.  “[There are] a lot of fire hazards within Clark, a lot of electrical stuff near water.” 

The fire department advised the community members to leave the scene because of the hazardous breathing conditions. 

Railroad Avenue and East Magnolia Street were closed off and the fire department says to expect delays.

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