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Historic downtown building lost to fire

// Photo by Zoe Deal

By Cailean Mcleod

A fire destroyed the second floor of Hohl’s Feed and Seed, a garden store open for more than a century, in the morning hours of last Monday, President’s Day, Feb. 18.

Bellingham Assistant Fire Chief Bill Hewett said no one was inside at 4:20 a.m. when Hohl’s caught fire, and firefighters managed to contain the blaze at 9 a.m..  

While the cause of the fire is still unknown, Hewett said firefighters and police investigators are working to learn more about what may have caused the blaze.

Hewett said the fire started around the back of the store before working its way up to the vacant second floor, which is now completely demolished.  He said fire crews had difficulty gaining entry onto that floor, which forced them to fight the fire from outside the building.

While Hewett is unsure if all the animals occupying the building made it out, he said fire crews did manage to save a few of them.  

Dianne Celmis, an onlooker outside the building, said she had frequented Hohl’s since she was a child. She and her husband shopped there a few weeks ago to buy onion and potato starters, she said.

“I’m sorry for the people who’s owned [Hohl’s], they’ve had it forever,” Celmis said.  

According to their website, Hohl’s Seed and Feed was originally opened a century ago in Fairhaven by George J. Hohl, who was also Fairhaven’s mayor. The business moved to its Railroad Avenue location in 1912 and has been there ever since.

 Larry Oltmann owns Clark’s Feed and Seed, a separate business next door to Hohl’s. He said his building remained intact during the fire; two layers of solid brick separates his store from Hohl’s, he said.

“We’ll get through it,” Oltmann said. “It’s certainly not planned, it’s not appreciated, but it’s part of life.”

Hewett said the lane of Railroad Avenue where Hohl’s resides on will be closed while cleanup commences and the stability of the building is ensured.

While the farthest lane reopened later in the day, Hewett said he estimates the rest of the street will reopen in a few days.

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