Four fires, four days: Fire marshals investigate string of suspicious fires

Arson fires in Mendenhall Valley, Douglas do not appear to be linked, officials say

A shop/garage on Moraine Way was gutted Sunday night in a fire that appeared to have been intentionally set. Homeowner Cameron Fleming said he lost 20 years’ worth of equipment. (Liz Kellar | Juneau Empire)

Four fires in the span of four days — three of which were apparently intentionally set — have Capital City Fire/Rescue Marshal Dan Jager understandably concerned.

 

But Jager said Wednesday that the rash of blazes do not appear to be connected. Of the three that he has ruled arson, two were in the Mendenhall Valley and one was in Douglas; two were in the afternoon and one was in the middle of the night; and two were in residential yards and one was at a public park.

“At this point, we don’t think there’s any connection,” he said. “There’s no common denominators.”

Jager appealed to the public for help, asking anyone who saw or knows anything about the fires to come forward and call the Fire Marshal’s Office at 586-5322 or Juneau Police Department at 586-0600.

“Even the smallest detail could be important,” he said, adding that tips can be left anonymously if need be.

‘A new shop won’t have these memories’

The first fire to be ruled as suspicious happened at 3 a.m. Sunday, destroying a workshop/garage on Moraine Way, off the back loop of Mendenhall Loop Road.

On Wednesday, Cameron “Mike” Fleming was still trying to inventory more than $100,000 in losses, teetering between disbelief and sadness as he gestures toward his gutted workshop, which had contained 20 years’ worth of woodworking, machining and welding gear.

“Everything I’ve collected is gone,” he said. “It’s insured, but …”

Fleming points to a fishing pole that survived, a gift from a friend nearly 10 years ago. On a blackened wall there used to a hang a T-shirt that belong to his wife’s father, that commemorated his first solo flight.

“It wasn’t valuable, but it was a memory,” he said. “A new shop won’t have these memories.”

Fleming said his younger dog gave the alarm, waking him up with a “vicious” bark.

“I thought someone was breaking in,” he said. “I looked at the window and saw flames and freaked.”

Fleming’s wife, Donna, ran to move a car out of the carport, and they were able to drag a quad out of harm’s way. In a stroke of luck, Fleming had moved his boat outside a few days earlier.

He tried to beat back the flames with two fire extinguishers, noting ruefully that he should have invested in “good-quality 20-pounders.”

The fire seemed to have started in a plastic storage shed that had contained a pressure washer, a table saw and chop saw, as well as some tarps, he said. When Fleming got to the shed, it literally wasn’t there any more.

“It was that fast,” he said of the fire, which he called a homeowner’s biggest nightmare.

An insurance investigator is scheduled to come out Thursday to examine the site of the fire, Fleming said. He added that he was having a hard time believing it was arson, saying, “I just can’t imagine someone wanting to do this. It’s just ugly; it’s just ugly.”

Two blazes set Tuesday

CCFR firefighters were dispatched to the first fire of two fires Tuesday, off Steep Place in the Mendenhall Valley at about 2:32 p.m., said Assistant Fire Chief Ed Quinto.

The original call came in as an open burn, Quinto said. When fire personnel arrived, they found a fire in the backyard of a home that had burned a large section of wooden fence, a wooden gazebo and vegetation before starting to spread to the house. A pile of wood up against the house was also on fire. The fire was quickly extinguished, with property damage estimated at approximately $6,000.

This fire is being investigated as an intentional fire, not an open burn, Jager said.

“There is no indication someone intended to burn the house,” he said. “We believe it started along the backyard fence, it burned 50 feet of fence. On the other side of the fence, there were a lot of dead leaves and dried grass, which is typical to find in the springtime. The fire traveled up through that and the wood gazebo was in the middle of that. Once that got going, there was enough heat coming off the gazebo, which was 10 feet from the house, that it ignited stacked lumber and Trex decking material that was stacked against the side of the house. It was a series of combustible items within close proximity to each other.”

Also on Tuesday at approximately 4:22 p.m., firefighters responded to the Savviko ball fields on Douglas, for a bench fire in a dugout, Jager said.

“The fire was relatively small and was quickly extinguished,” he said.

This also was ruled as intentionally set because there was no reason found for the fire to have started there, Jager said.

To have four fires in four days — including a fire Saturday night on Seward Street that destroyed a local photographer’s business — is unusual, the fire marshal said. The Seward Street fire may have been caused by someone flicking a cigarette butt into a narrow alleyway adjacent to the shop.

“In that short of a time frame, that is a concern,” Jager said of the string of fires.

Luckily, he added, no one has been injured, but there has been a substantial amount of property damage.

“We do have our share if intentional fires — it’s been a year, a year and a half since we’ve had this many intentional fires at once,” Jager said. “We don’t really know the motive, whether it’s juveniles or — we have no clue, so that makes it difficult to find a common thread, if there is one.”

 


 

• Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2246 or liz.kellar@juneauempire.com.

 


 

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