Firefighters suspect that a possibly overloaded extension cord sparked a blaze in a condominium unit, leaving five people homeless and knocking out power to much of Douglas Island on Wednesday morning.
"It was a difficult fire to attack," Capital City Fire and Rescue Chief Eric Mohrmann said.
The fire was in a four-unit, two-floor complex at 2569 Douglas Highway.
Power lines running parallel with Douglas Highway prevented firefighters from using a ladder truck, Mohrmann said. Two sections of supply hose broke, possibly from motorists driving over them. And when firefighters arrived at the scene, the fire was too far along to send people into the building, he said.
The highway was closed off for two hours. At the request of the fire department, Alaska Electric Light & Power shut down power in the high-intensity line, blacking out everything on the island south of the Douglas Bridge from 9:21 to 10:39 a.m., office manager Gayle Wood said.
Mohrmann estimated damage to the complex at $650,000.
A resident sleeping on his couch woke to see fire on the floor. After he couldn't put it out, he alerted neighbors, investigators said.
Within two minutes, flames were reported pouring out of a ground-floor door and a second-floor window, Mohrmann said.
A city ambulance took one resident to Bartlett Regional Hospital. The patient, whom officials didn't identify, was released later in the day, said Elayne Boyce, district director of the American Red Cross in Southeast Alaska.
All of the displaced residents had arranged to stay with family members and friends Wednesday night, she said.
Resident Robyn Marriott, standing outside with her dog, was calm Wednesday morning as she watched flames leaping from her unit. She was at work at the Alaska Department of Labor building across Gastineau Channel when she got a call from a neighbor, looked out the window and saw the smoke.
Marriott lost everything that she didn't have with her, including boxes of her molded glass artwork.
Her eyes teared when she said her two cats were missing.
Firefighters found both later. Mohrmann said all the pets in the complex escaped harm.
At the scene, neighbors credited Mark Aurella, a Coast Guard petty officer, with waking up one resident and letting a dog out on his way home from work.
"Neighbors yelled to get them out," he said. "I did what I did, just doing what anybody would have done. I just want to go home and get some breakfast."
Click here for more photos from the Douglas Fire
Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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