A Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue firefighter puts water on hot spots on March 7, the morning after the Smith barn fire in Coupeville. The delivery van was destroyed among the debris. The van was parked near the office where fire investigators believe the fire started. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Space heater likely cause of Smith barn fire

An investigation into the fire that burned down the historic Smith Barn in Coupeville revealed that combustibles in front of a space heater was the likely cause.

The fire that took down the barn at farmer Georgie Smith’s Willowood Farm on Ebey Road on the evening of March 6 was suspected to have started in an office on the west side of the structure, according to Ray Merrill, the Oak Harbor fire chief who’s part of a regional fire investigation task force that was on the scene early during the initial investigation.

Since no one was injured or killed in the fire, the insurance company was able to complete its own investigation into the cause and origin, comparing notes with Merrill and Ed Hartin, fire chief with Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue.

Merrill said he spoke to the insurance company’s investigator Friday.

“It appears combustibles were too close to a space heater,” Merrill said. “It was totally an accidental fire. It’s what we determined as well.”

No one was in the barn when it broke into flames around 8 p.m. on that Monday night and burned to the ground in less than 20 minutes.

Smith was away at a farmers meeting at the Pacific Rim Institute for Environmental Stewardship on Parker Road when she got the call that her barn was on fire.

She blames herself for possibly leaving the space heater on in the office.

Somehow paper might have wound up too close to the heater.

“I’m killing myself thinking it’s a strong likelihood it was that,” Smith said Tuesday.

Smoke was seen coming from that part of the barn before the structure broke into flames.

Smith said her delivery van was parked next to the office and wonders if, in the early stages, flames might have traveled and reached the vehicle.

“It sure looks like my van exploded,” she said.

Smith said Tuesday that she is committed to farming this season and her outlook toward the future is much more bright.

She credited a shift from her initial reluctance to an “overwhelming” amount of community support that’s lifted her family and given them strength.

Although her insurance policy will cover some of her losses, it won’t cover the costs it would take to replace her equipment and build a comparable barn.

She said she is committed to rebuilding the barn at some point in the future.

“My first reaction was, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’ But the response has been incredible,” Smith said.

“I want to do good by that.

“I feel like I need to honor the people.”

Nearly $50,000 has been raised already through a GoFundMe crowd-funding site.

Donations also are being made to the “Smith Family Benefit Account” at People’s Bank in Coupeville.