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Bellingham building owner: Structure ‘sound’ after bar fire

Fire started in fryer at State Street Bar, fire department says

Smoke billows from State Street Bar at 1315 N. State St. on Wednesday morning
Smoke billows from State Street Bar at 1315 N. State St. on Wednesday morning

The owner of a building in downtown Bellingham said it suffered “no structural damage” after a fire at State Street Bar Wednesday morning, Jan. 3.

No one was injured, although one person from the second-floor apartments was evaluated for injuries and did not require further treatment, Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Hewett said.

The fire started in the fryer at the bar at 1315 N. State St., according to Bellingham Fire Department.

Building owner Marvin Sargent said Thursday he offered to cover the cost of hotel stays for the next week for his five tenants. As of noon on Jan. 4, the building was without power or water service. 

Three residents took his offer, while two others made other arrangements for a place to stay, Sargent said. 

It was not clear on Thursday when — or if — residents could return to their apartments.

“The upstairs is smoked out,” Sargent said. “It’s filled with smoke and soot.” 

photo  A city crew removes road barricades on State Street around 10:45 a.m. as the street is reopened for traffic. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  

A cat was rescued from one of the apartments shortly after the fire started. By Thursday, all three cats who lived in the building were accounted for and safe, Sargent said.

Second-floor tenant Michael Nelson was sitting in his chair Wednesday morning when he saw smoke outside his window. He grabbed his phone, laptop, boots and some clothes and ran out of the building in his socks. A former comic-book writer, Nelson said Wednesday he had art in his apartment that could not be replaced.

State Street reopened to traffic just before 11 a.m. Wednesday after it was temporarily barricaded.

A police officer on the scene Wednesday said they were on their way to another call around the corner when officers noticed the smoke. 

The Whatcom County Assessor’s office values the structure, named The Betschart Building, at about $578,000.

Joe Betschart constructed the building in 1901. It originally housed a bar named the William Tell, named after the Swiss folk hero. The William Tell was known for serving Bellingham Bay Beer. In the years since, multiple other bars have occupied the building. It was also the original home of the Beaver Inn, which was opened in the mid-’70s and moved to Holly Street in 2012.

photo  A firefighter gazes up at the building. (Isaac Stone Simonelli/Cascadia Daily News)  

A small crowd gathered to watch crews fight the fire Wednesday morning. Some bystanders reminisced on the business. 

“It’s a great place to go and catch up with old friends. Being from Bellingham, everybody hangs out there,” Peyton Millar said. “It’s just a good old townie bar. It’s where you go to have a pitcher with your friends, eat stale popcorn and love it.”

Western student Elyse Mitchell said “on a Friday or Saturday night, it’s your best bet to hang out.”

Next door, the bar Ramble Tamble opened Wednesday afternoon, according to a post on its Instagram account: “Thanks to the tremendous response of @bellinghamfiredept, our space suffered virtually no harm and we plan to be open regular business hours starting at 5pm today.”

photo  Firefighters outside the building after getting the fire under control. (Cocoa Laney/Cascadia Daily News)  

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