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Fire sweeps through encampment on property that is focus of lawsuit

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — First responders were dispatched to an encampment of unhoused people in the 4000 block of Deemer Road due to a report of a fire spreading across several tents on Thursday, January 5th at about 5am. At least 1 caller to What-Comm 911 said they had heard an explosion in the area.

Approximate location of the fire

Bellingham Police Department (BPD) Lieutenant Claudia Murphy told Whatcom News via email that Bellingham Fire Department responded and requested BPD provide security to allow them to fight the fire safely.

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The initial investigation revealed a person in the encampment was lighting a torch which caused a tent to catch fire. The fire spread through the illegal encampment causing a massive fire and damaging a significant amount of property. No one staying in the illegal encampment was willing to provide any details about the incident, description of the suspect or identity of the suspect. The fire was put out, no injuries were reported at the time of the fire, and none are known thus far.

Bellingham Police Department Lieutenant Claudia Murphy (January 9, 2023)

The property is the focus of a lawsuit by the City of Bellingham seeking a warrant of abatement authorizing access to the property, by force, if necessary, to abate nuisances claimed to be on the property, including removal of trespassers, removal and disposal of all property, garbage, waste and contaminated soils and replacing with clean soil and revegetation.

The lawsuit was filed November 22, 2022, and attempts to serve a summons notifying the property owner, identified as Erwin Rommel, of the lawsuit were unsuccessful. As a result, the court recently approved the city’s request to serve the summons by publication. This means Rommel will have 60 days from January 4th to respond. In the event no response is received, the court can be expected to grant the city’s request for the warrant of abatement.

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