Many fire victims returning home

Cordova Heights blaze may not have been started by furnace

Posted: Friday, January 07, 2000

Most of the 40 people left homeless by Wednesday night's fire at the Cordova Heights Apartments are back home.

``All but five of the families are already moved back in,'' said Kathy Williams, manager of Grants Apartments, the sister complex across Nowell Avenue from Cordova Heights.

``The other families are being relocated to other (undamaged) apartments owned by Grants Enterprises in the same complex,'' Williams said.

Holes in the roof made by firefighters battling hot spots were repaired Thursday, Williams said, and families were allowed to return as soon as heat and other utilities were fully functional. Many of the residents spent Wednesday night at the Baranof Hotel.

Apartment resident Cindy Griffin was back at her job at Super Bear this morning, but wasn't pleased after spending the night in a hotel twin bed with wriggly daughter Haylie, 8.

``The hotel was a horrible experience,'' Griffin said. ``It's kind of a cramped, funky environment. The kids are used to having their own rooms, and they were just not comfortable. It was hard for them to sleep.''

Griffin didn't know when she could get back into her apartment, home for her and her children for the past two and a half years.

She'd be happy to move back into her apartment immediately. ``The damage isn't bad,'' she said. ``I'd live with the hole in the wall in the kitchen and a little water damage in the bathroom. There's no smoke damage,'' she added, ``so I feel very fortunate.''

Smoke was first reported at the West Juneau apartments shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday. Flames filled the sky with an intense orange glare, witnesses said, and noxious smoke billowed into surrounding streets.

On the scene Wednesday evening, firefighters theorized the blaze began in the basement furnace room, and followed chimney flues three stories up to the roof.

With further investigation, however, theories have been revised. Firefighters said the fire began on the second floor, in the kitchen area of an apartment.

``I was looking around there again Thursday morning,'' said Jim Carroll, chief of Juneau's volunteer department, ``and, because of the burn pattern, the fire seems to have been an electrical problem - to have started in the wiring itself.''

It was a difficult fire to fight because double walls enclosed the flue on some levels, firefighters said. However, the double walls also protected apartments from damage.

At this point, the American Red Cross is not collecting for displaced residents, said Lana Tolls, executive director of the Southeast Chapter.

``It's kind of incredible that the owner (Hugh Grant) has put everyone up and provided some food,'' Tolls said. ``This is the first time I have seen this many people (evacuated because of fire) and seen the owner take care of the problem; it's quite a level of commitment.''

Tolls said a few apartment residents had called to ask how to deal with fire damage, but none had requested material help.

``Sometimes it takes them a few days to realize what they need,'' Tolls said. ``So they may be calling back.''

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