A Yakutat man is dead and his sister’s home has been gutted by a Saturday morning house fire.
Yakutat police chief Robert Baty confirmed Saturday evening that Eric James Anderstrom died in his sleep, possibly from smoke inhalation. His remains are being transported to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy.
“The best that we can determine was that Mr. Anderstrom returned home late last night. It appears that he was using his stove, and that the origin of the fire came from the stove in the kitchen,” Baty said by phone. “It looks like Mr. Anderstrom fell asleep in his living room. We can tell you that the fire alarms and smoke detectors were working when we got on scene. They were blaring.”
When he arrived on scene, Baty entered the house, only to be engulfed in smoke that filled the house from the ceiling to his knees “and there was an extreme amount of heat coming from the interior of the residence,” Baty said. “I’m only a police chief. I wasn’t geared up or anything.”
Members of Yakutat’s volunteer fire department found Anderstrom on the living room couch.
Anderstrom was an employee of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe and a passionate Minnesota Vikings fan. On Saturday, family and friends left messages of condolence and sorrow on his Facebook page beneath a banner proclaiming his support for the Vikings.
Anderstrom had been staying at the house of his sister, Gloria Wolfe, who was in Juneau attending a Tlingit language immersion retreat with her husband Ralph, and their two children.
Word of the fire spread and caused many attendees to leave early Saturday, the retreat’s final day.
“Everybody’s still in shock now,” said Yakutat Tlingit Tribe President Victoria Demmert, who deferred further comment to Anderstrom’s family.
Baty said Yakutat has had few fires in recent memory, with the last occurring five or six years ago.
While the home had working smoke detectors, Baty said it’s important for homeowners to also take steps to prevent fires. “Just pay attention to your combustibles, and hopefully that’ll prevent something like this,” he said.
While the fire was mostly confined to the kitchen, “there’s extensive smoke and water damage throughout the house,” Baty said.
The Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska has set up a crowdfunding account to help Ralph and Gloria Wolfe recover from the loss. As of 5:15 p.m. Saturday, almost $10,000 had been pledged from 93 donations. The account can be reached at https://www.gofundme.com/2h6xhjcb.