Wash. man using blowtorch to kill weeds sets house on fire

The man had been using the torch on weeds in the yard when he smelled smoke; the 120-year-old house caught fire quickly because of its old construction

By Kyle Mittan
The Bellingham Herald

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — A man using a blowtorch to weed a flowerbed Sunday morning, April 3, accidentally set fire to the century-old home where he was living.

Crews responded to the blaze at 1890 Nolte Road at about 11 a.m., said Randy VanderHeiden, assistant chief for Whatcom County Fire District 1. They later learned the fire started shortly after the occupant, Randy Velthuizen, had used a propane torch to burn away weeds near the northeast corner of the two-story house.

Velthuizen, 53, standing outside the home late Monday morning, said it was wet outside when he started burning weeds at about 10 a.m. Sunday.

He’s lived at the house for about 20 years, and the home is about 120 years old, he said. He’s burned weeds the same way before.

“It kills it better,” Velthuizen said of using a blowtorch to get rid of the weeds. “They don’t come back for a long time.”

Velthuizen said he was working on the back patio when he smelled smoke about 30 to 45 minutes after finishing killing weeds in the flowerbed. He called 911.

Because of the old-fashioned construction methods used to build the house, the fire spread quickly, making it harder for crews to put out, said Whatcom County Fire Marshal Mitch Nolze.

Half of the home, Velthuizen said, is “totally totaled,” with the other half is damaged from smoke.

The three other buildings on the property were not damaged, officials said.

A fifth-wheel mobile home sat parked near the driveway Monday morning. Velthuizen said he was living there temporarily until he found a new home.

He salvaged a few items from the house, he said, before officials told him to leave the rest while they investigate the scene. Velthuizen did not have renter’s insurance.

“It’s just stuff from the house — it can be replaced, most of it,” Velthuizen said. “Some of it was sentimental, but whatever. It just made downsizing a hell of a lot easier.”

Though common, using a blowtorch to get rid of weeds can be considered a crime if doing so puts property at risk of burning, Nolze said. First-degree reckless burning, under state law, is a felony.

Nolze said he would not refer this case for charges, however, because it was an accident.

Copyright 2016 The Bellingham Herald
All Rights Reserved 

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