Friday, December 2, 2011

Maple Street Fire - Some Unresolved Questions

On the 30th of November a house fire at 718 E. Maple Street was essentially totally destroyed by fire. You can read the Bellingham Herald's account of this fire by clicking here. Five young women, WWU students, rented the home that the County Assessor's office records show is owned by David Hansen. Hansen also owns the home at 1404 Grant St. that was destroyed by fire earlier this year. (Click here to read about that incident) There is not yet a positive indication that this second fire was the fault of any one person, however, there remains some question about the fire's origin that must be answered by the investigation to determine if either the renters or the landlord carries responsibility.

Although the Zonemaven spoke with the fire inspector, Jason Napier, about the blaze, it would not be helpful to speculate based on Mr. Napier's initial thoughts. After the investigative report is released, the Zonemaven will comment further.

In the meantime, we might speak again about smoke/fire detectors. These alarms saved the lives of the renters in this case, however, the alarms are, as has been said in this blog before, only a last resort. In other words, the more important issue is the cause of the fire in the first place and the steps the renter, the landlord and the city should take to eliminate the root cause of these fires. Alarms are no substitute for enduring poor conditions in rentals.

We may also have a conversation about the apparent absence of a fire extinguisher in the rental unit. Extinguishers are not required in single family rentals in Bellingham because there is no control over these rentals whatsoever. Therein lies a great problem, the health and safety of all renters in this city. Our new mayor is supportive of treating these rentals as businesses. Businesses that deal with the public, i.e. renters, ought to conform to basic safety and health standards. An ordinance to do so should be a priority in 2012.