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Fire destroys barn, old cars

Firefighter Eldon Baker hauls a piece of metal siding away from a burning barn Wednesday as Chris Blasko and another firefighter pour water on the blaze. The barn on Woodard Avenue in Freeland burned to the ground. It is owned by Matt Nichols. - Matt Johnson
Firefighter Eldon Baker hauls a piece of metal siding away from a burning barn Wednesday as Chris Blasko and another firefighter pour water on the blaze. The barn on Woodard Avenue in Freeland burned to the ground. It is owned by Matt Nichols.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

A large barn fire in Freeland Wednesday morning that tested the capacity of South Whidbey's fire district brought a few tears to the eyes of car collectors when several classic autos were burned beyond repair.

The fire, which broke out shortly before noon in a Woodard Avenue barn owned by Freeland's Matt Nichols, was one of two that occurred simultaneously that morning. While the Nichols fire sent up a huge column of black smoke in Freeland, Fire District 3 firefighters were trying to douse a bedroom fire in a Langley home. Also straining the fire agency were two medical emergencies, which required two more coinciding responses.

According to fire Chief Don Smith, the Woodard Avenue fire caught the attention of firefighter Andy Campbell before almost anyone else. Campbell, who usually responds out of one of Clinton's two fire stations, had a fire district tender on scene within five minutes of making an initial 911 call.

But no amount of urgency could save the barn, which was engulfed in flames before the first hose was unrolled. However, Nichols family member and friends were able to pull some valuables out of the structure before it started to collapse from the flames and heat. Matt Nichols said his nephew, Ole Thorsen, rushed into the building with two other men to push a 1930 Ford Model A, a 1962 GMC pickup truck and a motorcycle out of harm's way.

Nichols himself tried to enter the building to drive his prized Porsche 911 Targa S clear of the blaze, but found his nephew blocking the way.

"He almost tackled me," said Nichols, who quickly realized another trip into the barn could have been deadly.

Chief Smith said the blaze was exceedingly hot due to the large number of things inside the barn. He said the blaze had probably been smoldering for some hours before it broke out into open air.

Fire personnel got the fire under control quickly with a water cannon mounted aboard one of the engines on the scene. However, they were unable to save Nichols' Porsche, a modified street rod and a 1932 Chrysler sedan stored inside. Also lost in the fire were a number of family possessions and some work materials from Nichols Brothers Boat Builders.

Smith said the barn and its contents were a total loss. He estimated the damage to be about $250,000. He said an inspection of the building ruled out foul play. The cause of the fire was likely electrical, he said.

The day's other fire, which was at an Edgecliff Drive residence, was out within minutes of the arrival of firefighters. District Capt. Mike Cotton said the home's owner discovered the smoky blaze in a back bedroom. He said it took only a few gallons of water to douse it.

Smith said the fires and medical emergencies required the attention of almost every district volunteer on the island Wednesday. The district is at its thinnest personnel wise during the workday, when many volunteers are working off island.

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