Alaska Blaze Leaves 13 Homeless

A fire at the Moose Horn building on the Old Glenn Highway started a little after 6 p.m. Tuesday and, with Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department's Latimer Station located right across the Old Glenn Highway, one would think it would have been quickly extinguished. However, the fire quickly spread to the building's attic, and help was called in from additional fire departments around the area.

"One of the firefighters at Latimer was the first to notice the fire and called it into dispatch," said Jeff Hartley, spokesman for the CVFD. "The crew was gearing up when one of the residents ran across the street and reported the fire. They quickly went over and evacuated all the residents of the apartments and those in the garage."

According to Hartley, the fire originated in the apartment unit immediately adjacent to the garage being used by Forsythe Transportation and spread into the attic.

"The first crew immediately called in for additional trucks from within the department," Hartley said. "A call for mutual support from neighboring departments also went out and, eventually, 22 trucks representing five different fire departments were on scene."

Anchorage Fire Department spokesman Tom Kempton reported that units from each of the CVFD stations responded, and calls went out to the South Fork station, AFD Station 11 in Eagle River, Fort Richardson-Elmendorf Fire and Emergency Services and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for assistance. "Crews were on the scene a long time," Hartley said. "The mutual aid crews left the scene after midnight, and CVFD crews didn't clear the scene until after 1:30 a.m."

Despite all of the firefighters and apparatus on scene, the Moose Horn building, which was once a gas station and the original Chugiak post office on the Old Glenn Highway, was a total loss.

Kempton said, the building was currently being used as a bus barn for Forsythe Transportation, which provides local bus service for the Anchorage School District, and the adjoining apartment building was home to 13 people, 12 adults and one infant.

According to "Star Light Memories" by Lee Jordan, the Moose Horn building, at 17139 Old Glenn Highway, was also a community landmark. The building got its name in the late 1940s after Jim and Marie McDowell hung a set of moose antlers on the log building they built on the site.

Current owner David Mallars noted the building's history and the tragedy of the evening in an interview with the KTUU Channel 2 News during the fire. "The Moose Horn goes back to 1946. The first ZIP code for Chugiak was right here. This is where the mail was delivered," he said. "The sad part is that the building housed eight families. There are going to be a lot of people affected by this, and it's going to be rough."

Hartley, a firefighter himself, was kept busy during the blaze driving a tanker truck between the scene and fire hydrants at the Chugiak Senior Center and Chugiak Elementary School to provide the water needed to extinguish the blaze.

"Keeping the water flowing was the biggest priority," Hartley said. "Without hydrants in the area, we had six tankers shuttling water back and forth." Hartley reported that the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities assisted in the transporting of water by making repeated trips on the Old Glenn Highway with a sanding truck to keep the road safe.

He said a pair of other obstacles hindered firefighters during the blaze. "It took Matanuska Electric a while to disconnect electric wires in the rear of the building," he said. "Once they cleared the lines, the danger of a live wire was eliminated, and it was one less hazard for crews to worry about."

Also slowing things down were some minor breakdowns with equipment, including the ladder truck from Station 11, which caught fire.

Karl Morgan, AFD captain from Station 11, said the fire disabled the truck. "An apparent electrical short caused a small fire and left the truck dead in its tracks," Morgan said. "The truck will be examined by a maintenance crew to see if they can make the repairs necessary to make it moveable."

While firefighters were busy fighting the inferno, volunteers with Red Cross of Alaska were on scene providing aid to the displaced residents.

"We had six volunteers last night that responded to the scene, to the request for assistance," said Red Cross spokeswoman Kelly Hurd. "These families lost absolutely everything. Their home was totally destroyed."

According to Hurd, each of the displaced residents was able to find a place to stay Tuesday night with family or friends, but added the fire left them needing additional assistance from the Red Cross.

"We'll be there to help them out as far as their additional food and clothing needs," Hurd said. "This could be quite a disaster for the Red Cross to respond to, because they may need housing in the future."

According to Hurd, costs may include the first month's rent or security deposits on new residences.

"We don't know how much it's going to cost the Red Cross yet," she said. "But on average, we provide about $1,500 in direct financial assistance to each family affected by disaster."

The Red Cross is asking for financial donations for families to help with costs associated with providing shelter.

Donations may be made directly through the Red Cross online at www.alaska.redcross.org or by calling 888-345-4376.

Firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading to the school buses parked adjacent to the building.

Despite protecting the buses, ASD spokeswoman Michelle Egan said in a press release Tuesday that there was no bus service to schools in the Chugiak-Eagle River area Wednesday, because of the damage to Forsythe Transportation's offices where the keys were stored.

"We should be operational tomorrow and after Christmas break," she said Wednesday.

Hartley reported there were no injuries caused by the fire and that the cause it's still being investigated.

"The state fire marshal was on scene as we were fighting the fire," he said. "I imagine a complete investigation into the cause will be conducted. But looking at the extent of damage, I don't know what they will be able to find."

Republished with permission from The Alaska Star

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