Famous Ferndale dahlia farmer dies in house fire

FERNDALE, Wash. -- Walt Wynne's life work decorates countless yards and window sills.

Wynne, was a renowned dahlia farmer who grew basketball-sized flowers, died in a house fire over the weekend.

"I went to the backdoor and screamed and yelled for Walt, but (the) smoke (was) so bad I couldn't see anything," said his wife, Cory Wynne.

Cory hooked up the hose to save her husband sleeping inside. The two had married when she was just 18, and he had brought her a bouquet every spring and summer day since.

The couple's children also tried to rescue their father.

"My brother had and ax, and (was) trying to break down the doors to get him," said daughter Natalie Gray.

"I can still hear him screaming, 'Dad! Dad!'" said Cory.

Walt died of smoke inhalation. And with him died the family dahlia business.

Growers from around the world bought their prize-winning flowers to honor the man and his life's work.

"We've had emails from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia," said Cory.

Dahlia growers at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show admired the quality of Salt's varieties.

"My favorite one is Wynne's king salmon," said Shelley Kaas of the Puget Sound Dahlia Association.

"As far as dinner plate-sized dahlias, he was unmatched," said dahlia farmer Dan Pearson.

On Friday relatives combed through melted milk crates where Walt stored thousands of dahlia tubers he started years earlier from seeds.

"The walls were lined with these crates up probably six feet," said Cory. "They were in vermiculite, so a lot of them didn't burn. But a lot of them are just gone. But they are finding some."

These are seeds of hope that may carry on the family name. The man Walt mentored will try growing what they find on the Wynnes' land where Walt's widow hopes to rebuild.

"I always thought he'd pass away out in the dahlia garden with his hoe in his hand," said Cory.

In Walt's absence, his family feels a special connection to the farm he loves.

"We'll always have this, which is what he loved. So this is where I feel him. And this is where I know he is," said Gray.

Walt's legacy lives on in fields and yards all over the globe.

The memorial service will be held on March 2.

The family is asking gardeners to keep growing Wynne's dahlias just in case someday they want to collect tubers from their father's varieties.