'It all suddenly went away': Fire crimes take toll on lives

Posted: Sunday, March 19, 2000

When Juneau's Channel Dive Center and Channel Marina went up in flames in 1996, Dive Center owner John Lachelt was devastated - financially and emotionally.

``We got called shortly after the firefighters were alerted,'' said Lachelt, who founded the business in 1988. ``It is real tough to stand there and see 10 years of hard work vaporize in front of your eyes. It's real disheartening.''

Lachelt owned the business with his wife Su.

``We built the business from scratch and had not incurred any debt,'' John said. ``We felt we were doing well. And it all suddenly went away.''

Arson costs a lot more than just the price of a new building and its contents. It also costs jobs, hurts a business's production and takes a toll on emotions.

In 1998 alone, fires across the state caused about $37 million in damage to buildings, according to Marie Collins of the State Fire Marshal's office.

Arson is believed to be behind 12 to 20 percent of those fires, Collins said.

After Channel Dive Center burned, the Lachelts were confronted by the decision of whether to rebuild their business. Their insurance covered only about $125,000 of a $300,000 loss, John said.

``When you buy insurance, you think maybe a compressor could burn up - maybe a $30,000 loss. But you never think about everything being absolutely gone away,'' he said. ``That was hard.''

The Lachelts chose to start all over again at a new location on Old Dairy Road.

``To this day, I reach into my tool box for a tool that I know that I had, and it's not there any more,'' John said. ``(A fire) is a profound loss.''

However, the Lachelts were astounded by the support from the community.

``We had three people bring in their personal, portable scuba compressors and donate them so we could maintain air fills and customer service,'' John said. ``People brought in their scuba gear so we could maintain classes. Construction Machinery gave me a deal on a tool chest. There were so many great people who came forward.''

Juneau Crime Line offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to prosecution of the culprit, and John continues to hope police will find the guilty party.

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