Fire burns through Midtown Anchorage apartment building

Megan Edge

Fourteen fire units responded to a three-story apartment building fire in Midtown Anchorage shortly after 5 p.m. Monday. The fire burned quickly thanks to a strong wind blowing through the city, but was under control less than an hour later, with no injuries reported. What remained of the six unit building were charred walls, a partially torn down roof and 24 people without a home, according to Steve Mendive, battalion chief with Emergency Medical Services.

Maleeka Barnes lives in the basement of the apartment building, located at 310 West 33rd Avenue. Shortly before 6 p.m., she stood in the windy street facing the grey building, where her mother lives as well, wearing only a tank top and yoga pants.

"I could smell the fire," said Barnes, a longtime resident. "Everyone was saying there is a fire, the lady (who lives in the apartment that caught fire) was saying it started on the porch, but she didn't know how."

Many of the building's residents are families, said Barnes, adding that their children are friends and neighbors are friendly. The top-floor unit, where fire officials and neighbors say the fire began, is the home to a mother, her boyfriend and young children, according to Barnes. She described their complex as quiet. "No one has any problems," she said.

Barnes disappeared back into a crowd made of up curious neighbors, displaced fire victims, public safety officials and children on bicycles.

"Nothing makes you get to know your neighbors like an apartment fire," said Jim Crain, who lives across the street. And although the wind helped drive the fire, Crain said it also helped pushed the giant plume of black smoke out of the neighborhood.

"It was the blackest smoke I had ever seen," said Midtown resident Dennis Heimdahl. "You could see flames shooting through the roof and through the windows. It happened so fast."

Now, all two dozen residents are in the hands of Red Cross, said Mendive. Volunteer for the non-profit, Lucinda Knopp, was the first responder from her organization. She said Red Cross will help the displaced by providing a Client Assist Card -- which acts like a credit card -- a clothing voucher, a comfort kit that provides personal hygiene supplies and a place to stay.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.