Hangar fire destroys 3 planes, sends 8 responders to hospital

Benjamin S. Brasch
A fire early Tuesday destroyed three aircraft inside the hangar, located at 17901 E. Maud Road, which is owned by Frank Knapp.
Benjamin S. Brasch
John McNutt, Palmer fire chief, talks at a press conference Tuesday afternoon about a Butte airplane hangar fire. The fire destroyed three aircrafts and sent eight volunteer emergency responders to Mat-Su Regional Hospital for smoke inhalation early Tuesday morning.
Benjamin S. Brasch

A smoky hangar fire at a private airstrip in the Butte community early Tuesday morning sent eight volunteer emergency responders to the hospital for smoke inhalation, according to authorities.

One of the volunteers, a Palmer firefighter, was admitted to Mat-Su Regional Hospital and was expected to remain there till Wednesday, said Otto Feather, deputy director of emergency services for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The other seven -- four Palmer firefighters, three Butte firefighters and a medic -- were treated for smoke inhalation and released, said John McNutt, the Palmer fire chief.

McNutt said 10 other volunteers responded to the fire, which was believed to have started about 2 a.m. in a furnace.

Three planes were also destroyed in the hangar at 17901 E. Maud Road, McNutt said. The hangar is about 4 miles east of Palmer and about 1½ miles east of the Old Glenn Highway.

Though state fire marshals are handling the investigation, McNutt said there is no suspicion of foul play.

The owner of the hangar and all three single-engine three airplanes inside received an alarm on his phone that there was a problem at the hangar, he said.

According to Mat-Su property records, Frank Knapp owns the hangar, appraised at $101,900, and the 20-acre property where the hangar sits.

Paul Huppert, 88, said he has known Knapp for years. He said Knapp built one of the planes last year that was destroyed in the fire.

Knapp had a party about a year ago to celebrate the opening of the hangar with hotdogs, hamburgers, cake and pie, said Kenneth Whatley, 85, who lives across from the hangar.

"Oh, he fed the whole neighborhood real good that day," he said.

Whatley said he remembers how well insulated the hangar was -- about a foot of insulation surrounding the inside.

The fire took 3 hours to get under control. Though the fire was small, there was a lot of smoke, McNutt said.

The sub-zero temperatures caused an inversion that held down smoke along with the gases from burning insulation, paint and aircraft materials, Feather said.

Firefighters may have been breathing in the fumes from the hangar before they even had a chance to put on their oxygen system, he said.

Reach Benjamin Brasch at bbrasch@adn.com or 257-4349. Twitter: twitter.com/ben_brasch