Authorities believe a 56-year-old Juneau grandmother was barricaded in the back bedroom of her single-story trailer on Lemon Creek Road when a fire broke out, trapping her inside and killing her.
“From what it looks like, she was in the back bedroom when the fire started and there were some issues with the door,” Juneau Police Department spokesman Lt. David Campbell told the Empire Saturday, adding it appears the door was locked from the inside of the room, where fire officials believe the fire started.
Firefighters forced their way into the home of Doris J. Emanoff and then crawled through heavy smoke to find her. Two of her family members who were in the home at the time and escaped unscathed watched helplessly from outside.
“There was a lot smoke,” Capital City Fire/Marshal Dan Jager said by phone of the rescue attempt. “It was all the way down to the floor, and a real intense heat. So, they were doing firefighting as well as search and rescue. There were two different crews doing that.”
The woman was unresponsive by the time firefighters got to her, Jager said. He did not know how long it took firefighters to remove her from the house, but said it happened shortly after he arrived on scene about seven to eight minutes after the initial 5:46 p.m. call on Friday. Police said she later succumbed to her injuries at Bartlett Regional Hospital.
Neighbors, who described Emanoff as a sweet, soft-spoken mother of two and a proud grandma originally from Sitka, were shocked by her death.
“We’ve known her for 20 years,” said Diane Enanoria, a 53-year-old state worker who has lived next door to Emanoff in her trailer at 1913 Lemon Creek Road for the past 22 years. “It’s really sad what happened, we’re still trying to take it all in.”
JPD and CCFR are working closely together to determine the cause and origin of the fire, as well as the cause of death. Jager said he anticipates Emanoff’s remains will be sent to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.
Authorities are also investigating whether the fire was intentional, especially in light of the fact that police were at the house investigating a disturbance 45 minutes before the blaze. Police also arrested a man at the scene of the fire, George Swain, for disorderly conduct. Neighbors identified Swain as Emanoff’s live-in boyfriend of the past 10 to 12 years.
“We asked him several times to leave and he wouldn’t leave, and we ended up having to take him into custody and actually physically drag him from the area, and after which he was arrested and lodged at the jail,” Sgt. Chris Gifford, one of the responding police officers, told the Empire on Saturday.
Gifford said he did not know if Swain was not following directions because he was emotionally distraught from being unable to save his girlfriend or for other reasons. Campbell, the police spokesman, said it was clear Swain was “highly upset and intoxicated” at the time.
Campbell said police responded to the home, which is located in a low-income neighborhood on the same street as state-run prison Lemon Creek Correctional Center, because they received a report that Emanoff and Swain were arguing publicly in their front lawn.
“When we got there, they were both intoxicated,” Campbell said. “We interviewed them. It had not been physical and there wasn’t a crime, so we separated them as best we could and then we cleared the scene. And 45 minutes later is when we ended up going back to the fire.”
Long-time next door neighbor Enanoria said she was the one who called 911. She said Emanoff sent her 11-year-old granddaughter to stay at her trailer next door when Emanoff and Swain began arguing, which several neighbors reported overhearing.
“... She knew that something was bad, things were ... unsafe and she got her granddaughter to safety,” Enanoria said in an interview on the front porch of her home. The smell of the charred house next door still lingered heavy in the air.
Taking in Emanoff’s granddaughter caused friction with Swain, who began yelling at the granddaughter to come back over, the neighbor reported. Enanoria called the police for help rather than turn the girl back over to what seemed to be a bad situation.
“George sent (Emanoff’s son, Charlie) over here to get the granddaughter and we blocked him, we told him no, she’s going to stay here, she’s not going anywhere,” Enanoria said. “Charlie went back over there, he was shaking, he didn’t know what to do. And George started yelling really loud, and yelling the granddaughter’s name to go over there, just yelling and yelling and yelling. So we called the police.”
After the police left, Enanoria and her son, Chris Hardin, 26, reported Swain said something that they perceived to be a threat to their dog.
“So we went back in the house, and about 10 minutes later we heard a bunch of fire alarms,” Enanoria said.
Enanoria said the granddaughter was still at her house when the fire broke out. The Office of Children’s Services was contacted afterward, and the girl stayed with another family member on Friday night, she said.
Enanoria described an awful scene as she and her son watched firefighters and police respond to their neighbor’s home. Emanoff’s son, Charlie, who is in his 30s, ran outside and yelled for help because he couldn’t reach his mother, she said.
“They got here and the first responder went to the back (of the house where there was heavy smoke) and was yelling at George to get out of the house, get out of the house, the house is on fire, get of the house, and he wouldn’t get out of the house,” she said. “Charlie (Emanoff’s son) kept also saying, ‘I can’t get to Mom, I can’t get to her.’ So they were yelling get out of the house but he wouldn’t, so they drug George out. I saw two of them, at least two of them, dragging him out, and he was fighting with them, and they got him and then they drug him away from the fire, and he kind of flopped down a couple of feet to the ground and they arrested him.”
“The fire at that point just went up the house,” Enanoria continued, “and she was in there and they (the firefighters) said, ‘It’s too hot, we can’t get to her, it’s too hot.’ So they couldn’t get to her, and the granddaughter looked over and she started crying, and I started crying.”
Loren Hope, who lives across the street, has known Emanoff for years — she used to babysit for him. He described her as soft-spoken and sweet.
“She didn’t deserve to die,” he said.
“It’s just sad,” said another neighbor, 56-year-old Sharon Onstott, who has lived across the street from Emanoff for the past 17 years. She said her husband heard Emanoff and Swain arguing earlier in the day.
The neighbors reported that both Emanoff and Swain battled alcohol abuse in the past, which is reflected in electronic court records that show several alcohol-related misdemeanors for both of them. But they turned their lives around and haven’t consumed alcohol in the past eight years or so, neighbors said, but all that changed Friday night.
“They haven’t openly drank like that in a long time,” Enanoria said.
“That’s why it’s weird,” Onstott said. “It’s like, what happened?”
Emanoff leaves behind two children: her son, Charlie, and her daughter, JeannieMae. Her family was notified of the death. They did not respond to press inquiries for comment.
Hope said Emanoff used to be married to a logger but that he died in a work accident years ago. She dated Swain, who moved to Juneau from California, for the past decade or more, he said. Emanoff worked for a long time as a maid at a local motel and also worked an office job before she began having back problems, he added. She was unemployed in recent years and was getting by with disability benefits.
Electronic court records show Swain was arraigned on the disorderly conduct charge in Juneau District Court on Saturday before a magistrate and he is slated to appear in court again on Monday. Records show a temporary order was issued, but did not specify what it was for. It’s not clear if he has an attorney yet or if he is still in custody.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.