$1 million blaze in storage unit looks like arson

Police, fire investigators cite tips from 'credible sources'

Posted: Friday, July 12, 2002

Police and fire officials have refocused efforts to determine the cause of the fire that destroyed more than $1 million in property at a self-storage unit near Lemon Creek last month, investigators say.

Juneau police officer Kris Sell said investigators began to take another look at the fire last week based on tips from "credible sources" that the fire may have been set intentionally.

Fire Marshal Randy Waters said last month, given the extensive damage caused by the blaze that ravaged one of the Juneau Self-Storage buildings on Commercial Boulevard, there was "about one-billionth of a chance" officials would be able to determine the cause and origin of the fire.

Investigators from the police and fire departments are working on the case.

"We don't have anything concrete yet," said Sell. "We still don't have a motive as to why the fire would have been set, but we are taking all tips very seriously. People were really devastated by this fire and so we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to track everything and gather as much evidence as possible."

Sell declined comment on the nature of evidence collected and the types of tips police have received. She also would not confirm whether police have a suspect or suspects in the case.

"The investigation is still in a very delicate stage right now and any information released may jeopardize it," Sell said.

Waters has declined to release a report of his findings.

Police are expected to have more information available next week, Sell said.

Larry Spencer, general partner in Salmon Creek Partners, which owns the facility, said he was not notified of an arson investigation, but plans to increase security at his storage facilities in the Salmon Creek and Lemon Creek locations.

The blaze happened in the early morning hours of June 3 and quickly spread throughout the 150-unit building. Officials initially believed the fire may have started in two areas of the building and that all of the fire doors had been propped open, allowing the fire to move through the building.

More than 50 firefighters battled the blaze - narrowly escaping injury when the roof of the structure caved in and when 3,000 rounds of ammunition, kept in one of the storage units, sprayed the firefighters with gunfire and shrapnel.

Renters searched for two days through the remnants of the building to salvage their belongings, finding little to nothing left.

A defendant facing felony arson charges could get up to 20 years in prison for each count.

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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