Downtown fire causes estimated $30,000 in damage

Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Capital City Fire and Rescue, along with some Good Samaritans, helped save a building at 416 Gold Street from a fire Tuesday afternoon, but not before the flames took their toll.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Preliminary damage reports from fire marshals on scene estimated damage of $30,000. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation but is believed to have begun in a third-floor apartment, the marshals said.

"I'll wait until its safe for me to get inside and see," Fire Marshal Dan Jager said.

Eli Rolfe was one of the first Good Samaritans to respond. He and friend Ben Martinez were skateboarding a block away when Rolfe heard cries of help and saw smoke coming from the street.

"I just heard someone yelling 'fire' and saw smoke," Rolfe said. "I threw the long (skate)board down and started kicking..."

Rolfe rolled up to the house, jumped off his board and bounded up the front steps.

At the same time, attorney Fred Triem was working from his nearby apartment and saw smoke coming from the building, which contains five apartments. He dialed 911.

Rolfe said he burst through the first door he came to, which happened to belong to Christina Peterson.

Rolfe said he screamed, "You have to get out, your place is on fire!"

Peterson said she was sitting at her computer doing homework with her dog. Her three children were at school, but boyfriend David Fuchs' daughter Shadai, 5, was home from school sick and sleeping on the living room couch.

"I came out of my room and saw smoke," Peterson said. "I picked up Shadai, grabbed my dog and ran out."

Trinity Episcopal Church Pastor George Silides ran a garden hose from his house directly across the street. Rolfe had gone in through another window to see if any one else was inside but found no one. When he came out, he noticed another hose and attached it to Silides' and the two battled the smoke from the rear of the house.

The fire department arrived with six units and 30 responders within five minutes of getting the initial 911 call.

Alaska Electric Light & Power linemen Evan Bisby and Scott Steinman said they were returning to base when they saw ambulances. They turned on the emergency channel and heard the fire call, and immediately turned around and were on scene in minutes. They climbed the power pole in front of the house and cut the power.

"If it is possible we cut off power to the building," Bisby said. "Firemen would rather not go into a place with live electricity."

The Juneau Police Department also arrived within minutes of the call.

"We had initial reports of a domestic dispute," JPD officer Blaine Hatch said. "That people were throwing things out and screaming for help."

Hatch said the JPD tries to provide traffic support, contain the surrounding area, maintain safe areas for the fire personnel to work, and assist as needed.

Live-in building manager Pete Munro said he had been working on a car in the driveway minutes before the 911 report and went for parts. He dropped girlfriend Mary Rivera off at the library. When he returned he saw fire trucks and smoke.

"It was billowing out," Munro said. "I thought this can't be happening to me. Thank God no one was hurt, that's the most important thing. I think it had to be that old refrigerator up there, it always gave me problems, it got too hot when plugged in."

Munro said the property belonged to Ralph Bennett, who lives in Washington.

"We will go retrieve some personal belongings and wait to hear what the fire marshal says," he said. "They told me it was where the old refrigerator was at."

Red Cross spokesperson Jean Jasmine was on scene and said the residents of the apartments will be taken care of.

"We come in and help the folks find housing," Jasmine said. "We help with the basics if we can, see if they lost anything, see what they need. Find homes for pets if needed, anything at all."

"It is an historic site," resident Deborah Bowes said. "It is an old building but we really love living here. We are all close friends."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.



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