By Gretchen Wehmhoff

Josh Colosky had omelets on his mind when he drove into town Sunday morning, Feb. 26, to buy some eggs. On his way back from the store he saw smoke coming from somewhere and called his friend up on Dyea Road to ask what he saw. By then, Colosky had arrived at the Jewell Building.

He called Orion Hanson, owner of the shop that was on fire. There was no answer. He called 911. Colosky said it took awhile to get a hold of Hanson and his former boss, Tim Bourcy, who owns Packer Expeditions. Colosky eventually drove to Bourcy’s place to tell him.

Colosky and passers by who came upon the blaze started to pull items out of the Packers office and yard. He said that they were trying to grab most of the flammable items such as gasoline, gas tools and paint. The group also saved several large tools, a trailer of kayaks and a cart of radios. 

Bourcy arrived and the two took pictures of what they could then Bourcy directed everyone to get out of the building. According to Bourcy, his shop is insured.

Jon Hillis is the new executive director of the Skagway Development Corporation (SDC). Employee Eliza Russell, the catalyst manager, was first to arrive. Hillis told her to not enter the building.

“We lost everything,” Hillis said. 

Hillis said that fortunately SDC had already finished their taxes and grant reporting and hopes that they can reach out to those sources to send information back.  

SDC had been working to build up its Small Business Resource Center. There was a conference area as well as a library of business management and start up books. The resource center also had computers, printers, scanners and a spiralizer for community business use. It’s all gone.

Most everything will be covered by their insurance, but Hillis says replacing hard to find items will be the challenge.

He regrets the loss of a picture showing an overhead view of Skagway from1969. In 1972 it was overlaid with building and business names. He’s not sure where he can replace it, but will be contacting the Skagway Museum, National Park Service and USGS. 

SDC is actively looking for a new space for their offices that is on the first floor and has parking. 

SDC runs the utility assistance program in Skagway. Hillis says that anyone who submitted a request for January should verify that it was received and consider resubmitting. The Skagway Library is providing a secure drop off for any documents that need to be processed or delivered to SDC. The library also has printers and copiers should businesses need them. 

Hills said that the phones are still working and that those who call should make sure they leave a message so he can get back to them. The number is 907-983-3414.

Kathy Shen owned the house to the east of the Jewell Building. She uses the home for employee housing and has rentals. Two renters were displaced due to the fire.

The west side of the structure and the roof will need replacing. Shen said she is in talks with the insurance company and hopes to get the okay to start work on repairs.

Shen credits the Skagway Volunteer Fire Department (SVFD) for putting out the fire and saving her building. “They did an amazing job,” she said.

The Skagway Courthouse also lost everything physical such as furniture and computers. 

Alaska Courts Public Information Officer Rebecca Koford says all cases that had come in by Friday were digitized into the online system before the weekend. 

Koford says Haines and Hoonah will pick up the Skagway cases. People will be able to participate telephonically and can utilize online filing. The Haines courthouse number is 907-766-2801.  

A new location will be determined after the invitation to bid is out and answered. Koford says it could be between three and nine months before a new location is found depending on the responses.

The courthouse is self-insured through the Alaska State Division of Risk Management. They began renting 475 square feet in the Jewell building in September 2021.

Hanson watched the fire from across the street. He talked about it at the end of the March 2 assembly meeting.

“It’s extremely difficult to see your business burn to the ground. I don’t know what I lost, but I’m not going to find it,” Hanson said.

Hanson shared gratitude for the firefighters, police, volunteers and municipality. He noted that decisions made by the different groups saved structures, including bringing in the excavator in the end to knock down the front to protect other homes.

He said that the next day he and his crew went to the site and were in awe of the destruction. 

“I just kind of looked at my crew and I said, we got work to do … if you can be safe, let’s go to work,” Hanson said.

Hanson addressed those in the chambers.

“This year, 2023, this winter has been a bad one. But we have a great community. And, you know the engine of our economy will be back and I know we’ll be better,” he said.