Blaze leaves 40 homeless

No one injured, but 6 apartments damaged

Posted: Thursday, January 06, 2000

Some 40 residents of an apartment complex in West Juneau fled a fire Wednesday night that caused extensive damage, but no injuries.

A report of smoke was phoned to Capital City Fire & Rescue at 8:17 p.m. Four fire trucks and two dozen firefighters responded to the three-story Cordova Heights Apartments, a 24-unit complex on Nowell Avenue.

The fire apparently started in the furnace room at one corner of the apartment complex, and then ran up the chimney shaft, said Chief Jim Carroll of the Juneau Fire Hall.

``It followed the shaft up three levels,'' Carroll said at the scene about 9:15 p.m. ``We had to get into the apartments and open some walls.''

Later it was necessary to make two holes in the roof to access hot spots. Firefighters said today that there was extensive damage to four units and minor damage to two others.

Eight children were among the 40 or so people displaced. Most spent the night at the Baranof Hotel, said Baranof Assistant Manager Steve Hamilton.

Cordova Heights, built in 1973, is owned by Hugh Noel Grant of Grant Enterprises.


Juneau area firefighters make their way up to the third floor of the apartments.


``I don't know what caused it,'' Grant said today. ``They are trying to determine that right now.''

Clouds of smoke and steam billowed into the cold as firefighters battled Wednesday's blaze. Fire hoses snaked through icy slush and firefighters' hard hats glistened in the rain.

Cindy Griffin, 30, who lived in the apartment just above the furnace room, waited out the fire with her children Blake and Haylie Kollar, 7 and 8 respectively, in the car of Dianne Godkin. In the back seat, Blake bounced excitedly as his dad, Joe Kollar, battled the blaze as a volunteer firefighter.

Griffin had her own theory about the fire's origins.

``I haven't had any hot water for two weeks, and they've been working on it,'' Griffin said. ``I think that's what blew up.''

Griffin said she did not hear an explosion.

Teri Widdas, 32, clutched her raincoat tight over shorts, and shuffled sockless feet in an effort to keep warm while watching from the apartments across the street.

Widdas pointed to her burning apartment with her cigarette and said she was getting into the shower when she realized there was a problem.

``I said to my boyfriend (Mike Ekelmann), `Honey, do you smell smoke?' Then somebody was knocking on the door,'' said Widdas, who evacuated the apartment with her daughter, 11, and son, 6.

She and Ekelmann just moved to Juneau for his engineering job with Ward Cove Packing Co.

``We don't know anybody. We just moved here from Kingston, Washington,'' Widdas said. ``Three days ago we finally got furniture, paid the rent and got groceries.''

Robyn Widdas, 11, a student at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, shivered as she clutched a cup of hot cocoa. ``I just want to know who did it,'' she said.

Dispensing cocoa was Kathy Williams, manager of Grants Apartments, the complex across from Cordova Heights.

``A neighbor just coming home from work saw the smoke,'' Williams said. ``I ran over with my daughter (Tiffany) and husband (Bobby). We each took a floor and started banging on doors.''

``We got everybody out, and that was a good thing,'' Williams said. ``They're pretty stressed out.''

Apartment resident Cindy Griffin took today off from her job at Super Bear.

``I feel very fortunate that it didn't happen when everybody was asleep. We can replace our stuff - but we can't replace people,'' Griffin said.

Some undamaged apartments are without heat, but work is underway to restore it, Grant said. He didn't know when residents would be able to move back in.

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