Burned Alaska House was Outside Service Area

A Fairbanks couple lost a home to fire Wednesday because it was just outside the fire service area and firefighters turned back from the scene.

Ace Callaway, the owner of the house, said officials told him his house on the Steese Highway was only 180 feet outside the area that the Steese Area Volunteer Fire Department covers, effectively putting it on the wrong side of the road. The nearest fire department is less than two miles away. Callaway says he's been paying for fire insurance for years and he assumed that the department covered a large radius.

"I always loved the fact that there are a lot of good people in Fairbanks, but this was wrong," he said. "We're all supposed to be neighbors. It's just very disheartening."

The Steese Fire Department responded to the call within two minutes of it coming in but turned back when they realized it was outside the service area. Callaway said he saw them turn off their lights and head back to the station.

"When I saw the truck pull up and turn off its lights, it kind of hurt," he said.

Deputy Chief Mike Holzmueller said it's just the policy of all the volunteer departments in the borough to not respond to fires outside their range because they don't pay taxes for the service.

"It's unfortunate that it was outside the area," he said.

Callaway and his wife are in the middle of a divorce, and he said they were planning on remodeling so a lot of their furnishings were elsewhere at the time of the fire, which burned for hours and destroyed the home.

The residence was previously valued at more than $180,000, but he said an insurance adjuster will come by later today to assess what, if any, compensation they will receive. In the meantime, the fire has brought to the forefront an important issue for many borough residents.

"People on this side of the road are scared to death what will happen to them if their homes catch on fire," he said.

Republished with permission from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner