Alaska News

Passengers, crew evaluated for smoke inhalation after small fire on state ferry in Southeast Alaska

Nine passengers and crew members were evaluated for smoke inhalation Wednesday morning after a small fire broke out aboard the Alaska state ferry Columbia in the Southeast city of Wrangell, authorities say.

A state transportation spokeswoman said the fire started in cardboard near an ice machine and was quickly extinguished. Of the nine people taken to the hospital to be checked for smoke inhalation, two or three were crew members, she said. None required medical care.

The incident was also expected to delay the ferry in port for about six hours. The ferry docked in Wrangell at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. It was originally scheduled to depart Wrangell for Ketchikan at 6:15 a.m. and arrive in Washington state Friday afternoon.

A passenger aboard the ferry said the vessel had filled with smoke but several people who needed medical attention were already back aboard by 9 a.m.

A Wrangell Fire Department ambulance took people to the nearby hospital, making several trips back and forth, Wrangell borough manager Jeff Good said.

Built in 1974, the Columbia is one of four “mainline” ferries that the state operates between Alaska and Washington state and one of nine ferries in the system. It’s designed to carry almost 500 passengers, and is the largest in the fleet at 418 feet long and 85 feet wide.

Six of nine Alaska ferries are in service for the summer as the state’s Marine Highway System continues to contend with an aging fleet, funding issues and maintenance woes. The ferries not running include the Kennicott, due to staff shortages, and the 60-year-old Matanuska, which remains in overhaul in Ketchikan.

The Columbia was in the area of Ketchikan by Wednesday afternoon, according to a real-time vessel tracking map.

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at