Unexplained fires have Talkeetna residents worried

Mike Dunham
Marc Lester

A series of building fires in Talkeetna over the past two weeks has residents concerned about a possible firebug at work.

"We're labeling them as suspicious," said Eric Chappel, a captain with the Talkeetna Volunteer Fire Department.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Dane Waisanen was on the scene to investigate the fires on Sunday and Monday.

The most recent fire happened over the weekend in two vacant residences across the street from each other. On Saturday night, firefighters were called to a fire at a trailer with add-ons located near the north end of I Street., on the east side of the Alaska Railroad tracks from the main town.

"The roof had already collapsed by the time we got there," said Chappel. Volunteers from Caswell Lakes arrived and helped extinguish the flames, but the trailer was a total loss.

On Sunday the Talkeetna firemen were joined by volunteers from Willow to put out a fire at a log home on the other side of I Street.

Damage was kept to a minimum, Chappel said, with heavy charring on the outside and some interior damage. A shed near the house was destroyed, "But the house itself is most likely salvageable," he said.

This weekend's fires followed a major conflagration that took out several buildings in the downtown area on the morning of Nov. 1.

"The fire on Main Street destroyed three different structures," Chappel said. "And one of them was a historical building."

Chappel said that, despite the losses, the Main Street fire did not raise much concern by itself. No one was in the buildings at the time and no cause was determined.

"But now people are worried," he said. "We have three fires in a row in structures that aren't occupied and don't have power going to them and no source of ignition within them."

Chappel said the trailer had stood vacant for about a year. The log house was occupied as recently as this summer.

Talkeetna, 150 highway miles from Anchorage, has a population of about 900 but can grow into the thousands in the summer when tourists pour into the historic village within sight of Mount McKinley. A number of buildings stand empty during the winter months.

"We're asking people who live in Talkeetna to call State Troopers if they see any suspicious activity, people they don't know hanging out behind houses or doing anything that seems unusual," Chappel said.




Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.