Thanksgiving Week Sees Multiple Fires, Including One Death, in Grays Harbor County


A string of fires occurred around Aberdeen and Grays Harbor County over the week of Thanksgiving, including a vehicle fire resulting in a fatality.

The number of fires is much higher than usual, said Chief Dave Golding of the Aberdeen Fire Department.

"We've had 12 structure fires we've been to in the last 30 days. That's running at a pretty high pace," Golding said in a phone interview. "It's quite an uptick."

The fires do not appear to be connected, Golding said.

"We're hearing rumors of an arsonist. That's where people's minds go," Golding said. "We're not seeing that pattern at this point."

Fatal vehicle fire

A fire early on Nov. 24 resulted in the death of a man, Golding said.

"We did respond to a reported car on fire on Rice Street," Golding said. "There was a fatality involved and it's under investigation by the APD and AFD."

Police were first involved, summoned by a 1 a.m. call of suspicious behavior, said Lt. Andy Snodgrass of the Aberdeen Police Department.

"A patrol was dispatched to a suspicious circumstance. A reporting party said there was a male revving a vehicle in the driveway," Snodgrass said in a phone interview. "A call a short time later said the vehicle was now on fire and the male was possibly still in the vehicle."

APD and AFD responding to the scene extinguished the fire, but the body of a man was present in the vehicle, an early 2000s model BMW X-5 SUV, burnt beyond easy recognition. Fire appears to be the cause of death, Snodgrass said.

"When the officers were on scene, they didn't see any obvious signs of trauma, but the body had been burned," Snodgrass said. "We called up the detectives and they came and took over the investigation to make sure there isn't anything suspicious or criminal. At this point it doesn't appear to be criminal."

The body is scheduled for an autopsy on Tuesday, Snodgrass said. A tentative identification of the corpse has been established but has not yet been released.

Major house fire

Two days before, a residential structure fire between Montesano and Aberdeen left a house destroyed. Grays Harbor Fire District 2 responded to the call with assistance from the Montesano Fire Department.

"It was a residential structure fire. It was a home," said Interim Chief Tom Hubbard in a phone interview. "It came in on November 22 at 7:36 in the evening."

The fire, which occurred on Aldergrove Drive between Montesano and Aberdeen, was visible from Olympic Highway, bringing a flurry of 911 calls, Hubbard said.

"It was a total recall of all Fire District 2 members with mutual aid from Montesano Fire Department," Hubbard said. "It was a difficult fire. The occupants had lots of machinery and vehicles in the yard. Even gaining access from the main road presented a challenge to work through."

The all-hands call was standard procedure for a fire of that magnitude, Hubbard said.

"When there's a structure fire like that, it's a full response on available personnel," Hubbard said. "Two fire engines, three water tenders, two ambulances and a rescue unit were the response to this structure fire."

Water tenders needed to relay water to the incident site, Hubbard said. The size of the fire meant that it was a defensive fire right from the beginning, with firefighters unable to make their way into the structure.

The cause is undetermined due to the extent of the damage, which completely destroyed the house, Hubbard said, but is thought to be linked to a possibly malfunctioning heating device. No people sustained injuries, Hubbard said, though one pet was killed in the fire.

Tent camp fire

On Nov. 26, AFD received a call at 11:29 a.m. about a fire in the tent camp near River Street. No injuries were reported, Golding said.

"They had a tent fire down in the homeless camp on River Street," Golding said. "We have fires in these homeless tents from time to time and it's generally someone using a heating source too close to combustibles in the tent."

The call came during a busy period, Golding said, but the tent fire turned out to be the only fire call of significance.

"This was in the middle of a barrage of fire calls we had," Golding said. "We had seven in about five minutes."

Suppressing the fire was uncomplicated, Golding said. Firefighters treat fires there carefully due to the possibility of hazards like propane bottles in the tents, Golding said, operating with an abundance of caution.

"It was a pretty straightforward fire," Golding said. "It's just like an outdoor fire for us. We're just being mindful of any hazards down there."

Star Wars store

The now-closed Sucher & Son's Star Wars Shop on Wishkah Street was also the source of an indoor fire on Sunday morning, Golding said, with the call coming in at 7:22 a.m. A caller reported smoke coming from the empty building.

"It was a fire that was inside," Golding said. "It sounds like someone had got into the building and started a fire inside. No one was there when crews arrived. They set up for offensive attack, made entry, found a small fire, and extinguished it fairly quickly."

Someone had gained entry to the building, Golding said, and made a fire, possibly for warmth. The fire department sometimes receives calls of this nature, where people seeking shelter from the elements make fires that accidentally get out of hand, Golding said.

"Property owners who own vacant buildings, make sure they're properly secured," Golding said. "We get these fires from time to time where people break into them."