Spenard apartment fire: Investigators hindered by unstable building

Anchorage Daily NewsJanuary 14, 2014 

Structural difficulties are hindering the probe into Monday's apartment building blaze in Spenard, fire officials said.

Serious structural damage and a collapsed third floor barred firefighters Tuesday from safely entering the burned-out half of the building at 1627 W. 32nd Ave., said Al Tamagni, fire department spokesman. It's unclear how and where the blaze started.

Firefighters are determining how best to stabilize the structure so the investigation can move forward. Damage to the complex is estimated at about $500,000, Tamagni said -- not including content loss.

Someone driving by the Anchorage Sands Apartments called 911 and reported the fire just after 4:20 p.m. Monday. The flames destroyed at least half of the 16 units in the three-story building, Tamagni said.

One woman jumped from a roof as firefighters arrived Monday, he said. Medics treated some people at the scene but none were taken to the hospital.

At least 30 residents are left without a home, said Justin Sisich, the owner of the complex.

"I'm just trying to get my tenants taken care of," Sisich said.

About 20 residents spent Monday night on cots at the Spenard Community Recreation Center, said Sallie Perkins, shelter manager with the Red Cross.

They were joined by three of the four families displaced in a second apartment fire in Mountain View Tuesday afternoon. The shelter was preparing to accommodate 30-plus people Tuesday night.

"This is home sweet home for the next few days," Perkins said.

Tamagni said he did not know when it would be safe for residents to return to the scorched Spenard building. On Tuesday morning, blackened siding dangled from the structure and legs of an upside-down table partially hung outside a broken-out window.

Martha Sanchez, 40, lives in an apartment on the top floor and received positive news after the flames were under control -- her pets were safe.

She pulled up to the fire in her pickup Monday night after leaving work, unaware that the fire had engulfed the apartment closest to her own.

"I saw the lights and everything and thought, 'Oh, that was just a very bad crash,' and then I thought, 'Oh, I hope that's not my building,' and then it was my building," Sanchez said. "I got that dry-mouth feeling."

Her 13 parakeets were trapped in her apartment. She panicked, she said. With the unpredictable fire, police and firefighters told her, it'd be hours before she could check on the birds.

By 8:45 p.m. a police officer called Sanchez's cellphone and escorted her into the building. All the parakeets were alive, Sanchez said.

"I'm very, very happy," she said. She spent the night at a friend's home.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.

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