APD investigating arson in Aberdeen house fire

When Christopher Woodland woke up on Saturday morning, April 23, he saw what he thought was the sun peeking out from behind a neighboring two-story home.

“I was up early and I was sitting in my little chair with my little heater,” Woodland said. “I turned on the heater and (thought,) ‘There’s the morning!’ ”

But it wasn’t the sun above the pitch of his neighbor’s roof. It was fire that lit up the sky above the 200 block of North H Street.

And now, a person is dead, and the fire is being investigated as an arson.

As of Tuesday morning, April 26, yellow police tape lined the vicinity of the property, and at the corner of North H Street and Second Street — which leads onto North H Street — the city has it closed off with orange cones and a “Road Closed” sign.

Aberdeen and Hoquiam firefighters responded at 5:27 a.m. on Saturday, to a structure fire at 215 N. H St., in Aberdeen, according to an Aberdeen Fire Department statement.

The initial responding units found a large volume of smoke and flames that extended from the back of the building to the front of the building. The fire reached several feet above the roof of the two-story residence with the doors and windows boarded up with plywood. The residence was officially vacant, according to Aberdeen Police Lt. Steve Timmons in an APD statement.

“Officers began knocking on nearby residences to evacuate occupants for their safety due to the concern of the fire possibly spreading to other structures,” he said.

Fortunately, no other structures were involved in the fire, according to Kelly Niemi, AFD’s battalion chief and training officer.

During the evacuation, officers received information about “transients” who were using the residence for shelter and that the fire may have been intentionally set. Through interviews, they later found out it was arson.

Woodland described how the fire looked while the two fire departments fought the blaze.

“I could see this place just ripping,” he said. “It was just totally engulfed.”

Woodland said the fire got so hot that it melted some of the black paint on his 2000 Pontiac Formula Firebird, which was a recent purchase Woodland had made.

“It was a real hot burning fire and (there was) a lot of smoke,” he said. “It was real hard for me with (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and (Atrial Fibrillation.) I could not get air. I was breathing smoke, and it was intensely hot.”

Woodland, who walks with the assistance of a black cane he calls “Luther,” said he moved as fast as the snap of a finger out of the parking lot area, in order to save his Jeep from potential damage. His recently purchased Pontiac, which he didn’t move, received what Woodland described as heat damage.

It took some time for AFD to put out the fire, which left a blackened husk of the former home. The building was still standing as of Tuesday morning.

“The fire caused extensive damage to the vacant home at 215 N. H St., and (it) took approximately two hours to fully extinguish,” Niemi said.

As officers continued working and receiving additional information about the fire, they arrested a 34-year old Aberdeen man, who is a person of interest, on unrelated charges, according to the APD statement.

An Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms unit was called to assist with the investigation.

Sixteen firefighters responded to the fire, with 10 from AFD and six from the Hoquiam Fire Department.

A total of one command unit, four fire engines and two medic units also responded.

While police have determined arson was what started the fire, the exact cause and where it started are not known.

Woodland was thoroughly impressed by the work done by the firefighters, police, and the city workers who showed up to assist with the fire. He said they stayed outside the residence throughout the weekend.

“I care about how hard those guys worked, and how they all worked together,” he said. “From police and fire, they all had their jobs. It was amazing to see.”

Woodland thought it was interesting the fire happened when it did, since one week before he called to complain about odd activity at the residence.

“It was a junkie mess, just garbage everywhere, (with) shopping carts and bike frames,” he said. “One day, there’d be seven bare bike frames there and the next day, they’re gone. Then there are shopping carts there, and then they’re gone. It’s amazing how it was like a revolving door. You’d see people going in and out of there. I thought maybe they were living outside, in a trailer or something, but not really in the house.”

About two days later, Aberdeen police detectives, along with ATF and Aberdeen Code Enforcement, served a search warrant for the residence.

“After assessing the structure to ensure it was safe to enter, a victim was located and removed from inside the residence,” the APD statement reads. “The Grays Harbor County Coroner’s Office is working on identifying the victim.”