By Gretchen Wehmhoff

According to the Skagway Volunteer Fire Department (SVFD) and Alaska Fire Marshal’s office, the cause of the large building fire of Feb. 26 was determined to be accidental. The preliminary report says the fire originated in the southeast corner of the structure and was “electrical in nature, secondary to water damage into the electrical system.”

Fire Marshals Richard Harrop and Brandon Lewis assisted SVFD in the investigation. SVFD released the building back to the owner.

Mayor Andrew Cremata, who met with Harrop, Lewis, Municipal Manager Brad Ryan and Fire Chief Emily Rausher, said the final report will be available to the municipality in approximately one month. 

The fire consumed three lots of the block between Broadway and State, and 8th and 9th. The building, owned by Max Jewell, was a total loss. 

Rauscher filed details of the blaze with the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) as per protocol. From the building permits, the investigation team confirmed that the building had draft stops, but no fire walls which exacerbated the fire’s hold on the attic area.

The fire also burned portions of the house to the east of the building owned by Kathy Shen.

There were no sprinklers in the Jewell Building and the team did not hear fire or smoke alarms in the structure while batting the blaze. Rauscher reported she heard smoke alarms in Shen’s building.

While the investigation team did not approach the business owners in the complex regarding insurance, the NFIRS did ask about the building’s coverage. It was not insured. The Skagway News was unable to reach Jewell for comment.

Rauscher said the first “360” look at the fire determines the attack. There were several fuel/propane tanks that firefighters worked to keep cool in the southeast corner.  

Three hydrants were used during the fire, one had a frozen nut on top that was eventually freed.

Rauscher credits AP&T’s Sam Nelson and Public Works’ Tyson Ames for helping on scene. It took several steps to isolate the electrical grid from the town, to the north end to the block. Nelson worked to stabilize the power. 

Ames assisted with frozen hydrants, defensive hose handling and spreading gravel as the road and block became iced over in the cold temperatures.

Rauscher said there were nine volunteers and five staff on duty. She said that former volunteers jumped in as well as several community members to handle defensive hoses, warming services for the firefighters and meals for those fighting the fire.

At the end of the day, Rasucher said, “Everybody got to go home. Everyone got to go home and hug their family.”