Dominique Jean, 46, woke up this morning, started coffee on the stove and made a mental list of things to do today. A few minutes later he was blinking back thick black smoke and struggling to find a way out of his van before fire consumed it and him.
Jean said he was making coffee around 7 a.m. on a small propane-powered stove in his van parked on Thane Road near the abandoned A-J Mine. As he lit a match, he didn't realize the tank had sprung a leak and was spewing gas into his van.
"I lit my match and next thing I know, boom, flames," said Jean. "They go like all the way up to the ceiling. The fire was coming from the side of the tank and shot to the carpet in front of me and was burning in a circle on the carpet."
Jean said he grabbed for a three-gallon can of drinking water.
"It was all I had, but it wasn't enough," he said. "I was inside (the van). The smoke and the smell was already very strong and I was just trying to get out so maybe I could put it out from the outside."
Jean made his way out of the van, but with no water left and no other way to put the fire out, it quickly gutted his home.
"It was everything I had," he said. "I had everything. Now I have nothing. All my movies, my TV, my VCR, all of it gone. There was nothing I could do."
He waved his arms at a man driving by who took him into town to phone the fire department.
About seven firefighters arrived at the scene around 7:12 a.m., said Capt. Ed Quinto with Capital City Fire & Rescue. Firefighters quickly knocked down the fire, said Juneau police Sgt. Ben Coronell, but the van was destroyed.
"I was sick," Jean said. " Not only from the fumes. ... I have nowhere to go. I am alone here. I have no family. I have nothing."
Jean, who's lived in Juneau for seven years, originally is from Haiti. He said he lived in his van because he was tired of apartments. He also said he doesn't work because he is disabled. He would not disclose the nature of his disability.
Jean said even without his van and despite the cold, he won't stay in a homeless shelter.
"I wouldn't be able to stand it there," he said. "I like living alone. I will be fine. I will get a sleeping bag and a few blankets. Don't worry for me. I am my own shelter."
Melanie Plenda can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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