Hamsters, chicks & small animals saved from 2-alarm fire at pet store in Bellingham

    2-alarm fire burns pet store strip mall in Bellingham (KOMO Photo)

    BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- The same phrase rang out many times in Bellingham early Monday morning as a 2-alarm fire burned the Hohl Feed & Seed: “This is our go-to store for pet supplies.”

    Dozens of customers of Hohl Feed & Seed stopped along Railroad Avenue to see firefighters desperately working to keep the fire from spreading to other businesses. The fire started just before 4:30 a.m. at the store in the 1300 block of Railroad Avenue, and firefighters not only fought the fire, but also rescued some small animals from inside the store.

    The popular garden supply and pet store has been fixture for over a century in the heart of the city's downtown.

    Bellingham firefighters rescued 100 chicks and 80 other animals, but it was too dangerous for firefighters to reach all the animals.

    Animal Control officer brought them to the Whatcom Humane Society where they are now in protective custody.

    "Everybody's heart breaks today because it's just a little piece of our community that has had a real tragedy happened," said Laura Clark, Executive Director of the Whatcom Humane Society.

    More than five hours after the fire started, flames still shot up in the air for firefighters to douse.

    “At one point were dumping probably close to 6,000 gallons a minute into this building,” said Bill Hewett, Assistant Fire Chief for Bellingham.

    The front stone facade and the water-logged first floor is all that's really left of Hohl Feed and Seed.

    The firefighters needed that much water to keep the fire from spreading next door to Clark Feed & Seed and beyond to Avalon Records and Vienna Cleaners.

    They had to cut power to about three blocks, to get the fire engines into the alley to attack the fire.

    While firefighters fought the flames, customers came to see the shell of the store they’ve turned to for all their pet supplies.

    “This is a store everybody went to for pet supplies,” said Jim Larrison. "You know it was the go-to place. A lot of other pet stores came up but everybody knew this is the place you could go."

    "I was the manager here for 15 years and I’m very emotionally attached to it and it really hurts to see this," said Glenn Faber, who retired from the business to hand the reigns over to his daughter Kelcie Faber.

    "I got a call from a friend this morning who heard about the fire on the radio, then I looked and saw it all over social media. I couldn't believe it. It's such a great family run store and we love our customers," said Kelcie. "It's a place that's been in the memories of grandparents and so many of our customers."

    PJ McGuire shook her head at how sad she was to see the devastation. She said she was just there over the weekend, picking up supplies.

    “When I was in college I got one of my dogs there and it’s just been around forever. It’s a place to go when you needed those obscure pet supplies,” she said.

    While her late dog, Pooba came from Hohl’s, her salamander came from the Clark's next door.

    "The guy said it would live seven years. I’ve now got a salamander that’s 21 years old and I get all of my supplies for my little salamander there," said McGuire.

    The salamanders and fish are now at risk, since there’s no power to heat their habitats.

    “It’s been quite a challenging fire,” said Chief Hewett. “As I said we were pouring 6,000 gallons a minute into the building, eventually some of it comes out, some of it converts into steam which is what we want to help put the fire out but some of it does come out of the building and start draining into to the street along with that a lot of fire debris ash and other pieces."

    He said they called in Bellingham Public Works right away, to deal with the runoff water and keep it from creating a lake on Railroad Avenue.

    "I just had a feeling in my heart the baby chicks were okay, " said David Parker who rushed to the scene the moment he heard about the fire. "I freaked out I drove down here a little too fast."

    He insisted firefighters take a second look late in the afternoon, the former employee said he knew some of the animals were housed close to the businesses’ front door, where it was safe for firefighters to risk a quick entry.

    In a matter of minutes a few firefighters carried out about a half dozen more animals in their glass enclosures, most of them burrowed in their bedding.

    About 100 chicks, some hamsters and a baby box turtle were cold, but looked good said Parker.

    "All in all despite tragedy the baby box turtle made it, the baby chicks made it, and Mango, my bird, made it," Parker said. "It's been a day of smiles and nobody got hurt, that's the main thing."

    Another pet store next door to Hohl's had smoke damage and is still checking to make sure all their fish survived. The fire knocked out power to some businesses in the area.

    The next step will be determining where and how the fire started, which Hewett predicted could be days away.

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