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Suspicious fire destroys Oak Harbor outbuildings

Police and fire investigators are looking into a suspicious blaze that destroyed two outbuildings behind a house in Oak Harbor yesterday.

The fire occurred on the 1600 block of NE 11th Avenue and was first reported by the homeowner at 4:52 p.m., according to Oak Harbor Fire Department Chief Ray Merrill.

Responding from the department's headquarters on Whidbey Avenue, Engine 81 was on the scene within three minutes and arrived to find the two outbuildings, both of which were used for storage, engulfed in flames.

"Both were well involved," Merrill said.

Crews were able to knock down the flames quickly, however, and had the fire under control in less than 10 minutes. Small spot fires continued to pop up for another 10 to 15 minutes due to the structures being packed with storage items that ranged from containers of Christmas decorations to stacks of magazines and lawn mowers.

"The stuff just kept burning because we couldn't get to the base of the fire," Merrill said.

The fire chief noted that their efforts were made easier thanks to the homeowner and a few neighbors who had been attacking the blaze with garden hoses before the department arrived.

"They helped slow the (burning) process down," Merrill said.

Navy Region Northwest Fire and Emergency Services also responded to the incident. Altogether, Merrill said 20 firefighters were at the scene.

The fire is believed to have originated between the two outbuildings, said Merrill, though exactly how it started is still unknown. He said an investigation has been opened to determine the cause.

"At this point we haven't ruled out an intentionally set fire or an accidental vanity fire," he said.

A vanity fire is one that was started by a youth who is overly curious about matches or other fire starting devices. All investigators know for sure is that the blaze was started by a person, he said.

At 2 p.m., about three hours before the fire, a 911 caller from the 1400 block of NE 11th Avenue reported that her "daughter's boyfriend threatened to burn down her house."

Oak Harbor police, who are also investigating the fire, indicated the two incidents don't appear to be related. Chief Rick Wallace said an officer was sent to the earlier threat and the names from that incident don't match those associated with the later fire.

"We can't rule it out yet but I don't see any connection," Wallace said. "But it is awful coincidental."

At this point, he said there have been no determinations that a crime has actually occurred, only that the fire is "suspicious" in nature.

However, if it's later found that the fire was intentionally set, the person responsible could face charges of reckless burning or arson, both of which can be felonies.

Anyone with information about the fire is urged to call police at 279-4600.

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