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."