Fire crews respond to smoke at Capitol

Overheated motor in wall heating unit trips smoke detectors

Posted: Sunday, June 13, 2004

Even essential state business had to take a break Friday morning.

Gov. Frank Murkowski was in Washington, D.C., for the funeral for Ronald Reagan, and many state workers were home observing a day of mourning and remembrance for the 40th president when Capital City Fire & Rescue crews responded to a fire call from smoke detectors at the Capitol.

CCF&R Divisional Chief of Operations Martin Beckner said that apparently an overheated motor in a wall heating unit caused the smoke that set off the alarm at 7:29 a.m. Friday - about the time many were tuning in to see coverage of the Reagan funeral. The source of the smoke was the conference room next to Murkowski's office on the third floor.

Damage was limited to the heating unit, Beckner said. He added that people would have to clean up the white powder from the hand-held fire extinguisher firefighters used to make sure the there was no residual fire in the wall.

"It's going to take at least a vacuum cleaner," John Manly, Murkowski's press secretary, said.

On a normal day, three-quarters of the governor's staff would be at work by 7:30 a.m., he said. The conference room is the site of a daily 7:45 a.m. meeting, so people would have begun filing into it at the time of Friday's incident.

He said he didn't know how many people were working Friday, but some standing in the parking lot behind the building between 8:30 and 9 a.m. said they had better things to do.

"It's just keeping us from working, and I've got a lot of stuff to do," said Jim Clark, Murkowski's chief of staff. "I'm really glad they didn't spray the place down with water," he added before his cell phone rang and he took a call.

State Budget Director Cheryl Frasca said there was a haze coming from the conference room when she arrived for work.

"It smelled like something was dead," she said.

Later Friday, Manly said the electrical burning smell still lingered near his office near the third-floor conference room. But the biggest distraction Friday came from the jackhammer workers were using to work to remove an old safe from a first-floor office.

"It can be heard and felt," he said.

• Staff writer Timothy Inklebarger contributed to this story. Tony Carroll can be reached at

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