Flames from a residential fire in Freeland early Wednesday morning could be seen as far away as Hansville on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Although nobody was injured in the fire, three Freeland residents lost their home. Not long after the fire was extinguished, the South Whidbey community started donating to a fund set up to help them.
Just before 1 a.m. on March 17, South Whidbey Fire/EMS and Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue responded to the report of a blaze at a two-story home on Diamond Way.
Terry Ney, deputy chief of Operations and Safety for South Whidbey Fire/EMS, said crews arrived to find several propane tanks against the building wall venting flames.
“Suppression of the fire was delayed by the continued burning propane venting from the tanks, which had to be cooled extensively until the flames went out,” Ney stated in a press release.
The structure was on the verge of collapse, making it unsafe to enter, so all firefighting had to be done from the exterior. Firefighters were on scene for about five hours.
Apart from the garage, the house was a total loss. No one was home at the time of the fire, but it is suspected that a resident cat did not survive.
According to Ney, the source of the fire was the boiler for the in-floor radiant heating system.
The flue for the boiler was found to be clogged by a collapse of the flue liner, which likely caused overheating that ignited a fire in exterior wall of the house.
According to the Island County Assessor’s Office, the house was 2,200 square feet in size and was valued at $131,500.
The homeowner, Steve Eckert, is a truck driver who was on the road when he heard about the fire. He had been living at the Freeland home with his brother, Bill Eckert, and Bill’s girlfriend, Jennifer Hassa.
Bill and Hassa were notified about the fire by a neighbor while they were driving home from visiting Hassa’s parents in Seattle.
Steve said he was grateful no lives were lost, apart from the cat. He was also happy to hear that the garage remained intact.
The longtime Whidbey resident is hoping to rebuild the house.
“I bought that house in 1978,” Steve said. “I like it there. I raised my daughter there. All of my grandkids, at one time or another, have lived in that house. There’s a lot of fond memories.”
His brother, Bill, said it was surreal to realize stuff he’s collected over the years, from high school to college to adulthood, is now all gone.
“You don’t realize until it happens how much little things you need,” he said.
He and Hassa are currently staying with friends.
“There’s no playbook on how to get through something like this,” he said.
He added that he has been surprised by the outpouring of community support in the days following the disaster.
“The community is amazing,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of offers of help.”
Fellow Freeland resident Keasha Campbell created a GoFundMe fundraiser for Hassa and the Eckert brothers the day of the fire.
As of Friday, donors raised $5,445 that will go towards temporary housing, food, bills and personal amenities for the displaced residents.
In addition, there is also a drop-off location for cash or check donations or gift cards at Crabby Coffee in Freeland.
Campbell said she lost her house in a fire four years ago and someone had set up a GoFundMe for her and her kids. She wanted to repay that favor for someone else ever since as a way to help ease the pain a little.
“Insurance doesn’t kick in right away, and when you lose everything, having support sometimes makes it just a little bit easier to deal with,” Campbell said.
• To donate, visit gofundme.com/f/eckert-hassa-house-fire.