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    A community brought together after house fire displaces five college students

    Housemates (left to right) Maxwell Leidig, Mickey Brooks, Ariel de Anda, Trey Govero and Brock Diehl on Sunday, Oct. 13. // Photo by Alina Simone

    By Noah Harper

    The night of the fire, Ariel de Anda and his roommates, Brock Diehl and Maxwell Leidig, were at home relaxing and doing homework like any other night. The power had been going in and out earlier that day, so their other two housemates, Mickey Brooks and Trey Govero, were gone for the night. De Anda, who had fallen asleep reading a textbook, woke up to the smell of smoke outside his door.

    “You know I really do believe I would’ve just been a burnt corpse on that bed if it were another five, 10 minutes,” said de Anda. “I am just eternally thankful that everybody got out unscathed.”

    At 5:45 a.m., the Bellingham Fire Department received a call of a house fire in the Columbia neighborhood on Utter Street. The fire department sent three fire engines, a paramedic unit and two supervisor trucks to the scene, Captain Dave Pethick said. By 6:40 a.m., all occupants of the house were cleared, and the fire was extinguished.

    “I really do think it was the smell of smoke that woke me up because the fire alarms didn’t go off,” de Anda explained. “[Brock and] I both kinda did this thing where we woke up for like half a second thought we may have smelled smoke then we just went right back to sleep and all of a sudden we both shot up out of bed, opened up our room doors and smoke just flooded into our rooms.”

    The entire house was damaged in some way by water, fire or smoke. But when de Anda was allowed to go back inside, he was horrified to find what was left in his fire-scarred bedroom. 

    Most of what de Anda once owned was reduced to smoldering, crumbling piles of ash. All the collected vinyl were melted, warped beyond use. All the art collected over the last decade erased— clothes, books, pictures, posters: all gone. 

    “The biggest loss for me is that I have been collecting art since I was a child,” de Anda said,” I had well over 200 pieces of art all over the house, and I had hundreds more waiting to be put up that were just in a bag in my room.” 

    Mickey Brooks, who was away for the night, was optimistic about his room’s condition because it was downstairs and furthest from the fire. What he found, however, was the fire had started directly above his room, carving a hole in the ceiling allowing ash, insulation and water to pour in.

    “It was permanently stained and buried under rubble,” Brooks said, “You could see through the house, through my room through the hole in my ceiling, through the hole in the roof to the sky.”

    After Brooks ensured that all his friends were safe, his first thought was about the watch his dad gave him after graduating high school. Brooks had left the watch in his room that night, and while covered in dust and debris, it was salvageable.

    “I was like, ‘Oh God. I want to find that, cause it probably made it,’” Brooks said.

    After sifting through the bits of ceiling and rubble, Brooks found his watch intact.  

    Since the fire, more than $3,000 dollars have been raised by different communities across Washington State. The money raised through gofundme.com, as well as donations from neighbors, friends and family, have helped get the boys some solid ground. The boys were filled with hope when they saw how the community banded together to support them, de Anda said.

    Lily Gondry, a fellow Western student and Brooks’ girlfriend, started the GoFundMe the day of the fire.

    “I got the idea because an old friend of mine actually created one when they lost their house,” Gondry said, “I know that I personally don’t have a lot of money to donate, and I know that a lot of other college kids are in the same boat, but if everybody could just pull their money together, it might be a good idea.”

    Once the GoFundMe was all set up, Gondry took to social media to spread the word to anyone she could over Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. While they hoped something would come of it, Gondry and the boys did not expect the outpouring of support they received online.

    “I originally thought we’d maybe get 500 bucks, and then I was like, ‘Hey, that way they’ll have like a hundred bucks to split, you know, that’s not bad,'” Gondry said. “Then we went to a thousand and then we got to like 2,000 and then it was 3,000, and it was crazy.”

    The unfortunate circumstances of the situation brought the whole Columbia neighborhood community together with neighbors, friends and family all chipping in a little.

    “The most incredible thing to come out of this is that we have gotten an insane amount of support from our friends and our family and our neighbors, which we hardly even knew,” de Anda said. “We got a call from the red cross, and they gave us supplies, like basic stuff, toothbrush, hair, hairbrush, smoke wash to try to get carcinogens and smoke out of our clothes.”

    Columbia Elementary, the school directly across from the house fire, also got involved with the help effort, giving items that could not be donated through the GoFundMe.

    “Our next-door neighbor is a kindergarten teacher at the school that was literally directly in front of our house. Teachers got together and all brought in a bunch of donations like clothes, pans, cutting boards, new towels. They really did an amazing job, and we just can’t believe all of the support. It’s honestly been overwhelming,” de Anda said.

    On Tuesday, Oct. 8, the boys moved into their new place on Garden Street putting the fire behind them and attempting to move forward with their lives. De Anda, who had to drop a few classes after missing almost a full week of class, is using his newfound free time to focus on his music with his two bands.

    “The only thing I want is just to go back to focusing my energy on music. I really do think that’s going to help me right now,” de Anda said. “I’m working on a couple of albums, so there’s still stuff to do, and I can keep [being] productive. The biggest thing for all of us is supporting everybody in the house because everybody’s going to go through a different grieving process through this.”

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