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Clinton man counts blessings after cabin burns

Chuck Flannery-Jones has been couch-surfing with his friends and pondering the future after a fire burned him out of his one-room rental cabin and destroyed most of his possessions.

It was the third South End house fire in five days during the recent cold snap.

“I’m in survival mode,” Flannery-Jones said Sunday, shortly before a group of friends arrived to help him sort through the snow and ash for what was left of his belongings.

“I don’t know what planet I’m on,” he said. “But

I have friends coming out of the woodwork who have been there for me. I’m blessed to live on the south end of this island.”

He said the fire erupted as he was home washing dishes about 4:30 p.m. on the Friday before Christmas.

“I saw something out of the corner of my eye, then the entire west wall was on fire,” Flannery-Jones said. “I grabbed my dog and ran.”

“It was so hot, the crystal in my chandelier exploded,” he continued. “I was kind of in shock. I lost about 80 percent of everything I own.”

The cabin belongs to Terri and Kevin Fristad, who have lived on their 13-acre property for 18 years.

The Fristads’ house, about 75 feet across a parking lot from the cabin, was undamaged, Terri Fristad said Sunday.

Island County Fire District 3 responded with three trucks and several volunteers to the scene at 6103 Maxwelton Road, said Jon Beck, deputy chief in charge of the operation.

Heavy snow was falling as firefighters approached the scene via a long, limited-access driveway.

“We had it knocked down in about 10 minutes,” Beck said Monday. “The snow hampered our response somewhat. We don’t use lights and sirens in the snow. The last thing we want to do is force someone off the road.”

Officials said the fire started in the wall near the wood stove. They said an animal seeking warmth probably forced open the external door on the ash-removal chamber.

The cold, dry air pouring in may have fanned smoldering embers that caused spontaneous combustion inside the wall, fire officials said.

A small fire had been burning in the stove, but there was no fire in the cinderblock chimney, Terri Fristad said.

The one-room cedar-sided cabin, about 27-feet-by-15-feet with two sleeping lofts and a shake roof, was probably built in the 1950s, she said.

“It’s been remodeled twice, when trees fell on it,” she said.

Fristad said that after an insurance adjustment is made, she and her husband plan to rebuild the cabin. Two local contractors told her they would submit bids, she said, adding: “It’s a big project.”

She said the cabin isn’t totally destroyed, but it has considerable fire, smoke and water damage, and it needs a new roof.

The fire was the third on South Whidbey this month, keeping District 3 firefighters jumping but resulting in no injuries, at least not to people.

On Monday, Dec. 15, a morning fire destroyed one small summer house and gutted another along the tightly-settled row of residences at Sunlight Beach near Bayview.

The next afternoon, fire destroyed the double-wide manufactured home of a young Freeland couple, who lost nearly 30 pets and most of their belongings.

The first was blamed on a malfunctioning baseboard heater, the second on an overturned heat lamp used to warm a reptile cage. No one was home at the time of either fire.

Flannery-Jones, 53, a local caterer, said he had lived in the Maxwelton cabin for six years, and that the Fristads “were more like family than landlords.”

“I could make five times as much money and have 25 times the stress if I went somewhere else,” he said of South Whidbey. “That’s why I stay here.”

He said when the snow clears, he plans to move a friend’s RV onto the property to live in until the cabin is rebuilt.

He said his dog, which he obtained from WAIF Animal Shelter in Coupeville, appeared to be none the worse for the experience.

“She’s doing great,” he said of his 110-pound, 11-month-old black “Great Dane and mystery breed” mutt, Rosa.

“I acted so fast,” he said.

“I just grabbed her and put her in my car.”

Flannery-Jones said he has decided to look at things philosophically.

“It’s really rough when you see all your possessions piled up in the snow,” he said. “But it’s just stuff. You’ve got to move on.”

To reach Flannery-Jones, call 360-969-0487 or e-mail cmfj.whidbey.com.

Community Events, April 2014

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