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Blaze damages 107-year-old home north of Oak Harbor

A firefighter descends a ladder after extinguishing the last embers of a fire that severely damaged a North Whidbey home Sunday.   - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
A firefighter descends a ladder after extinguishing the last embers of a fire that severely damaged a North Whidbey home Sunday.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

North Whidbey Fire and Rescue firefighters participating in a training burn Saturday got some extra experience when the exercise ended and the real thing began.

At 4:10 p.m., the department was wrapping up the training burn in Polnell Shores when it was called to a residential fire on Hawks Prairie Road off Ault Field Road. It arrived to find Oak Harbor Fire Department firefighters already battling smoke and flames pouring from the windows of the structure.

“It was definitely going when got there,” said Marv Koorn, chief of North Whidbey Fire and Rescue.

Navy Region Northwest Fire and Emergency Service also responded to the blaze. The approximately 30 firefighters on scene were able to get control of the fire quickly before it turned into an inferno. However, there were some tense moments as the home’s sole occupant, 84-year-old Joyce Giles, was unaccounted for. Although several searches of the house revealed nothing, it was still a very scary situation, said Brian Giles, Joyce Giles’ son.

He had been at home when a water association official called to inform him that a fire had broken out at his mother’s home and that she was missing. The 10-minute drive to the home was a long one, he said.

“She couldn’t say whether mom was in the house, so it was pretty scary,” Brian Giles said.

Joyce Giles was located when she came home several hours after the fire had been extinguished. She had been at a violin recital in Mount Vernon with her other son, Scott Giles. They weren’t answering any of Brian Giles frantic calls because they had their mobile phones off. Although his messages did eventually alert them to the emergency, the forewarning did little to lesson the blow of the damage Joyce Giles found when she got home.

“Everything is completely black,” she said.

Although the fire completely destroyed the kitchen, burning through the ceiling into the attic, the rest of the house was severely damaged by heavy smoke. It was so thick that the windows are no longer transparent because they are black with soot, she said. Even shoes picked up from the floor after the fire revealed perfect shoe-print clean spots on the floor.

The damage to the home was so severe that it is uninhabitable. While Koorn estimated that the damage to the home could easily exceed $100,000, Brian Giles said he had not idea what they may amount to. However, he said his mother does have insurance and that the company has been contacted. Until the home is repaired, she will be staying with her sons, he said.

The home is 107 years old. While not an official historic structure, it is known as the Riksen Farmhouse and was constructed in 1903. According to Brian Giles, the Giles family moved into the house in 1958 and is the childhood home of both himself and his brother.

He also said this is not the first time North Whidbey firefighters has saved the Giles family and the Riksen Farmhouse from catastrophe. On Christmas Day, 1961, they averted a potential disaster when they put out a chimney fire at the home.

“I’m a big fan of the fire department,” Brian Giles said.

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