Fire destroys North Whidbey wood shop

A professional woodworker living on North Whidbey lost his shop, 40 years worth of tools and a pile of boards from a 300-year-old tree to a Nov. 29 fire.

Karl Nielsen isn’t sure now whether he’ll return to the woodworking business.

The fire started after Nielsen lit a fire in the shop’s wood stove and then went to the house to maker dinner. His wife first noticed the smoke. She called the fire department while he got the hose, but the fire was too big for him to handle.

Nielsen said the response from the firefighters, most of whom are volunteers, was amazing. North Whidbey Fire and Rescue responded with six engines, a tender, an aid unit, a rescue unit and a command car, as well as 27 firefighters. Oak Harbor Fire Department, the Navy fire department and Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue provided mutual aid, according to Battalion Chief Chris Swiger.

The shop is only part of an old barn, which Nielsen said measured about 120 by 26 feet. The section with the wood shop had heavily involved in fire when firefighters arrived.

Firefighters mounted an aggressive attack on the blaze with multiple handlines and were able to stop the fire before it extended into the rest of the building, Swiger said in a press release.

The crews worked for hours overhauling the building because of the heavy fuel load in the shop. The fire was under control by 7:19 p.m. and crews cleared the scene at 12:03 a.m.

No one was injured in the fire. Nielsen said it likely started at the wood stove.

Nielsen said he lost boards, tools and machinery, all of which were worth tens of thousands of dollars. Among his collection of boards was some Garry oak that came from an ancient tree near the Whidbey Playhouse.

Nielsen said his backup plan, if he decides to continue woodworking, is to create a small shop in his garage with a few tools. Working with wood, he said, “gets under your skin.” Nielsen trained out East in furniture making. and is known for making pieces that have curved forms.

Nielsen said he’s thankful that part of the old building was saved, though he’ll have to shore it up for the winter. It’s been in his wife’s family since the 1940s when Norma and Robbie Mitchell started an enormous turkey farm on North Whidbey. The building was originally a brooder house, but Nielsen converted into a woodshed in the 1980s.

“I was always afraid of this happening,” he said. “There are a lot of combustibles.”

Photo by Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
                                North Whidbey resident Karl Nielsen examines a board inside his wood shop that was destroyed by a Nov. 29 fire.

Photo by Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times North Whidbey resident Karl Nielsen examines a board inside his wood shop that was destroyed by a Nov. 29 fire.

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