Fire victim ‘like family’

He hadn’t worked at Penn Cove Shellfish in a few years, but Phil Harris was still considered family at the company.

And that family was shaken after learning of Harris’ death in a fire at his Coupeville home Friday night.

“He was just one of the nicest guys you could ever meet or ever hoped to know,” said Ian Jefferds, co-owner of Penn Cove Shellfish. “He was always very upbeat and very caring.”

Harris, 58, was found dead in a bedroom of his one-story residence on NE 4th Street after a fire broke out shortly after 8 p.m.

Investigators with the Island County Sheriff’s Office and Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue were able to determine that the fire started inside the home in the rear bedroom but needed to wait for laboratory results to come back to pinpoint a cause, Central Whidbey fire chief Ed Hartin said.

“We’re still not ready to identify a cause until we get that information back,” Hartin said.

The house fire was the third on Central and North Whidbey in less than 48 hours with neither of the previous two resulting in injuries.

Friday night’s fire was the first fatal house fire in Coupeville town limits in more than 20 years, Hartin said.

Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue did respond to a fatal fire in Greenbank two years ago and another outside town limits on Hill Road in the late 1990s, Hartin said.

Multiple agencies responded to Friday night’s fire after neighbors reported flames coming from the back of the NE 4th Street house near Clapp Street.

A unit with Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue knocked down the flames, then a second unit went into the home to conduct a search and discovered Harris’ body.

An autopsy by Island County Coroner Robert Bishop on Saturday identified the man as Harris, the only known person to reside at the home.

Bishop said that while the specific cause of death would be determined pending laboratory tests, all of Harris’ injuries were caused by the fire.

News of Harris’ death spread quickly. Penn Cove Shellfish shared sentiments on its Facebook page late Friday night.

“Tonight, we lost one of our own,” the post read. “Rest in Peace Phil, we shall miss you. RIP Phil Harris.”

Harris had been a longtime delivery driver for the Coupeville-based shellfish company, where his son remains employed.

“He was like family around here,” Jefferds said. “Everybody enjoyed his company and his presence. He was just a good guy.”

The tragic fire followed two house fires Thursday, leading fire officials to caution residents to be extra diligent about fire safety this winter.