Charges say arson suspect in apartment inferno lit clothes

casey.grove@adn.comJanuary 5, 2013 

— An Anchorage woman is charged with arson and reckless endangerment in the two-alarm fire Thursday morning that destroyed a Midtown apartment building and left as many as 45 people homeless.

The woman, 41-year-old Jenae Collins, started the fire that burned the 24-unit building at 3405 Eureka Street, according to a written statement from the Anchorage Fire Department sent to reporters late Friday. It started when Collins lit a piece of clothing on fire, which she put in a garbage can on a balcony, according to a charging document filed in court Saturday.

Under state law, the first-degree arson charge Collins faces indicates she started the fire intentionally. It's unclear from the charging document why she started it or if she wanted the flames to spread.

The blaze sent two injured people to a hospital, killed several pets and charred most of the three-story, $1.4 million building. Two vehicles were also consumed by flames.

In a phone interview Saturday, fire department spokesman Al Tamagni said Collins lived in the building. A fire investigator interviewed other tenants and gathered information that led him to charge Collins, Tamagni said. Collins spoke to the investigator Friday before police arrested her that night, Tamagni said.

Tamagni said he could not talk about what motive Collins might have had for starting the fire.

According to the charges, Collins lit a piece of clothing inside an apartment, then took the burning garment to the balcony and dropped it in a trash can. She put a cardboard box on top, the charging document says. The charges do not say what type of clothing Collins lit.

"Collins stamped on the cardboard," the charges say. "The fire grew substantially and spread to the attic space. The fire burned the south face of the building and the entire roof."

Police officers and firefighters rushed to the building about 8:40 a.m. after several people called 911. Witnesses described towering flames shooting from the building's roof and third floor. It took about two hours for firefighters to get the blaze under control, fire officials said. Dozens of people took shelter at a nearby church.

In an interview with Anchorage TV station KTVA at the church just after the fire, Collins and her boyfriend, John MacClarence, described seeing the fire and escaping through heavy smoke.

"We were on the first floor, number one," Collins said, according to the KTVA interview. "And so he's asleep on the couch, and I'm sitting in the chair, watching TV, and all of a sudden I see like this light come through the crack of the door, and the next thing I know, flames are going through the ceiling."

Collins told KTVA she lost all of her clothes and shoes in the fire. MacClarence mentioned an 81/2-foot mounted marlin worth $4,000 among his destroyed belongings.

MacClarence, in an interview with the Daily News just after the fire, said he woke up about 5 or 5:30 a.m. and drank some alcohol. He said he fell asleep about 8 a.m. and Collins woke him, alerting him to the fire.

Collins appeared in court Saturday afternoon, wringing her hands throughout the brief arraignment hearing.

Magistrate Judge James Stanley appointed a public defender for Collins, who said she was unemployed, and set her bail at $200,000, payable by bond, and $100,000 cash only.

Assistant District Attorney Michal Stryszak also asked that Collins be ordered not to contact an "important witness" who gave information to the investigators. Stryszak referred to the witness only by his initials: J.M.

 


Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

 

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