Two blazes keep firefighters hopping

Two very different fires within 24 hours of each other kept crews busy this week on North Whidbey.

The first blaze on Department of Natural Resources land targeted a long, linear driftwood mass at North Whidbey’s Ala Spit at 9 p.m. Wednesday night. North Whidbey Fire and Rescue personnel responded to the call initially and DNR crews shortly after. The latter cadre was putting the finishing touches on the extinguishment Friday morning.

“They should have it knocked down to patrol status by the afternoon,” said Steve Jennison, DNR Northwest Regional Fire District manager, on Friday. “This has been a big mess.”

The DNR crews worked through Wednesday night and brought in another engine, proceeding to work until 9 p.m. Thursday night. The firefighters showed up with chain saws at 7 a.m. Friday to cut a fire break.

“They have to cut a swath in the mass so the fire does not spread,” Jennison said. Ala Spit features a public access owned by the county and it’s a popular spot for fishing, clam digging, or just enjoying the sand and marine environment.

Beach fires can be worse than wildfires, he added, because they burn deep. The crews have been tasked with turning up the mixture of sand, seaweed and smoldering driftwood to keep the embers from burning. And chain saw blades do not enjoy cutting through sand-covered objects.

“Beach fires are always very, very difficult,” Jennison said. “It’s dirty, gritty work and it can smoke a very long time.”

Although the cause of the fire will likely not be ascertained, with no lightning in the area at the time, Jennison said it was probably human-caused.

“With heavy fuel like this, all of the evidence burns up,” he said. “It could have been a myriad of causes.”

Lyle Zimmerman, North Whidbey Fire and Rescue battalion chief, was given one theory regarding the fire’s origin.

“There was a lady out there walking a dog and she reportedly saw two young people leaving and a little bit later she saw the flames,” he said.

North Whidbey Fire and Rescue crews barely had time for beauty sleep before being dispatched again Thursday for a mobile home fire in Northgate Terrace.

Mobile home

up in flames

The call came in at 12:49 p.m. for a kitchen fire at a single-wide mobile home on Hamilton Drive.

“Four minutes into our response, it was called fully involved,” said Chief Marv Koorn. “When we got there it was flames shooting out from every place they could shoot out.”

Mike and Jen Swedelson resided in the mobile home with a 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. Fortunately Jen and the children were outside when the fire began. Mike was not home at the time.

“I put a pot of grease on the stove to make french fries and then the dog ran outside,” she said. “We all ran outside and when I came back in, the stove and cabinets above it were on fire. I called 911.”

The family’s dog emerged unscathed, but Jen’s grandmother’s canine was not as lucky.

“Her dog was hiding in the back room and we didn’t know it,” Jen said.

Koorn said the fire was a total loss, not only for the structure, but for the family.

“Everything is gone,” Jen said.

Upon arrival, Koorn knew the mobile home could not be saved. The next concern was the house next door. The heat from the mobile home melted the windows, but the fire crews were successful in wetting down the burning portions to save the house.

“The window went out but the curtains didn’t burn,” Koorn said. “That’s how close that house was to going up. The man in the house works at night and was fast asleep. The neighbors woke him up.”

With tinderbox-like conditions on beaches and elsewhere, Jennison cautioned people against setting fires.

“It’s the middle of August and we’re dry out there,” he said. “They need to be careful until we get to season-changing events, probably at the end of September. The bigger fuels are the driest they’ve been.”

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