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Blaze claims home

FREELAND — A fire that ignited in a garage raged through an adjacent Freeland home, destroying it and many of the homeowner’s possessions.

The Dec. 19 fire also displaced the house’s owner, Don Binder, who is now living at a nearby hotel.

The smell of smoke and charred wood filled the air around what used to be a double-wide trailer at 5930 Freeland Ave. Burnt furniture pieces, a round table and a set of chairs, that once were considered antiques now litter Binder’s lawn.

Inside the blackened home, the frame of a computer desk holds a melted keyboard and a stack of deeply singed bills while the gooey remains of a personal computer sits on the floor beneath.

Binder recalled staying up late the night of the fire. Around 4:30 a.m., when it was time to turn in, he turned off his television and heard something outside.

“I heard a popping sound outside my back door and went and looked,” Binder said. “Flames were coming up from underneath the roof of the garage on the next door property. I immediately called 911, grabbed my garden hose and tried to keep it off my back porch.”

As Binder fought the flames five feet away wearing nothing but sweatpants and a sweatshirt, he could hear explosions inside the garage.

“Finally there was a big blast and the back porch kind of spontaneously combusted. There was nothing I could do. It blasted me back against the side of the building here,” Binder said.

“The sheriff told me to get out of there. The power wires came down and the porch burst into flames.”

“I gave it a good shot,” he said.

Minutes later, the first of seven fire trucks arrived from Coupeville. Other units from Fire District 3 rigs pulled up next to battle the fully-involved blaze.

“They did the best they could do but they couldn’t save it,” Binder said. “Everything is entirely destroyed. If it wasn’t destroyed by fire, it was destroyed by smoke damage.”

As Binder walked around the scorched remains of his home where he has lived the past 16 years, his dog Layla followed.

“I am grateful that my dog and I are safe and that we got out; incredibly grateful to be alive,” he said. “On any other night, I would have been sleeping when it happened.”

Binder said many of the items that were lost in the fire were gifts from his mother, who passed away a year and a half ago.

“I had a lot of her antique furniture, personal effects, pictures, all kinds of things; stuff that just can’t be replaced,” he said. “Memories will have to sustain me. I am feeling a great sense of loss but it’s hard to put it into words. It’s your whole past.”

The fire started in an adjacent garage on another piece of property, Fire District 3 officials said.

“We believe there was an active wood stove or an electrical problem at the area of origin. There was so much devastation that it was hard to pinpoint,” said Deputy Chief Mike Cotton.

Mike Andersen, a neighbor who didn’t own the garage but used it to work on his cars, said that there was a lot of fuel for the fire.

“There was a power washer, with gasoline in the tank. There were cars inside the garage, a 1956 Chevrolet station wagon and a 1972 Monte Carlo parts car,” he added. “There were eight tires, three propane tanks and 15 to 20 smaller propane tanks.”

There were also 20 to 30 cans of spray paint, he said.

Andersen also had been charging batteries for cars and for screw guns, he said.

While he said the woodstove was not lit, he did say it was a possibility that there could have been embers glowing when he left for the day after using it earlier Wednesday morning.

“It is a possibility that the woodstove caused the fire, but it was a 1/4 inch steel walled stove with a new smoke pipe,” Andersen said.

“It was devastating. My neighbor lost his house. This is his livelihood. I was devastated. I lost cars, tools, but that doesn’t matter. This is heart breaking.”

Binder praised the work of firefighters and volunteers from the Red Cross, who quickly arrived on the scene after the fire.

“I have nothing but the highest praise for all of the firefighters. They did the best they could do with what they had to work with.”

“My plan is to try and put something back up here on this very spot,” Binder added. “I would like to have my life back to the way it was before Wednesday night. This was a life-changing experience.”

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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