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Fire claims the life of Friday Harbor woman in fatal predawn blaze
Two people escaped and a third person died as a fatal fire lit up a Friday Harbor home and quickly engulfed the house in the predawn hours of Sunday morning.
The fire claimed the life of a 49-year-old woman, identified as Sharon Hammel, a town employee and owner of the home in the 1000 block of Park Street. Hammel's 15-year-old son and a man in his mid-20's, identified as either a renter or roommate, escaped the burning home.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, which will be led by Chief Steve Marler of San Juan Island Fire Department, according to King Fitch, Friday Harbor town administrator.
"Fires are fairly unusual to begin with and structures fire are even more rare," said Fitch, administrator of the town for nearly 25 years. "It's been a long, long time since there's been a fire-related fatality in the town. I can't honestly think of one at this moment."
Hammel was one of the town's more visible employees during a four-year tenure as lead caretaker of the town Parks Department. Her duties included caring for town-owned green spaces, mowing park lawns and annual upkeep and maintenance of the numerous hanging flower baskets that adorn the town's streets lights and utility poles.
Hammel worked at the garden center of Browne's Home Center prior to joining the town.
"It's very, very tragic what we're going through right now," Fitch said.
Fitch added that deputy prosecutor Charlie Silverman was on scene early Sunday morning and made an initial exam in the aftermath of the fatal fire.
According to the fire department, the San Juan County Sheriff's Department received a 9-1-1 call and report of a structure fire at Hammel's Park Street home at 2:11 a.m.
The back of the home was engulfed in flames at the time that a Sheriff's deputy and two firefighters first arrived at the scene. The three were unable to rescue the woman as the flames had at that point, according to the fire department, become "too intense".
The first fire engine was reportedly on scene six minutes after the 9-1-1 call was received. Firefighters were assisted at the scene by San Juan EMS, the American Red Cross and crews from Orcas Power and Light Cooperative (OPALCO). By 6 a.m., the fire was extinguished.