Alarm system at fire-destroyed building was up to code, city says

City inspection records for the Royal Suite Apartments, the site of a deadly Spenard fire early Wednesday morning, show that fire-code violations in recent years at the property had been addressed and the fire alarm system was up to code.

"Historically there have been some problems with their fire alarm that they've taken care of immediately," said Anchorage Fire Marshal Cleo Hill. "They put a new one in a few years ago."

Several residents complained of false fire alarms recently at the complex.

The building didn't have lifesaving sprinklers, Hill said, but those are not required.

Last year alone, Royal Suite Apartments was inspected in March, April, May, August, October, November and December.

The complex's most recent fire inspection, in December, said a maintenance shop needed a fire-resistant wall, door and frame for its hot water heater. Hill didn't know if that change had been made.

In past reviews, inspectors found that people were improperly storing items in spaces under the floor or the attic. That was also addressed.


"They had some storage under the floor in some concealed spaces in early 2015 which we required them to move," Hill said.

['The fire was above our heads': Survivors recount frantic escape from burning apartments]

Since 2006, when the new fire alarm system was installed, Hill said there have been a few issues with "people messing with smoke detectors," but management addressed those problems when notified.

Royal Suite Apartments used to be a hotel. City records show it was built in 1977, the tail end of Alaska's pipeline construction boom and the beginning of the state's oil economy. It was a time of superheated growth in Anchorage and in towns and cities along the trans-Alaska pipeline route.

The building was not required to have sprinklers when it was built. In 2013, when it changed ownership, it became an apartment complex. Tenants there at the time complained of a bedbug infestation.

"In general, the building's just really old," said Robert Miller a third-floor tenant there. "I've discussed in the past I'd hate to see a fire there because it's like kindling wood."

Today, Anchorage multifamily properties built to the international building code are required to have sprinklers, Hill said.

If the Royal Suite Apartments had sprinklers, Hill said, "we probably would not have had the injuries and fatalities that we had."

The fire-ravaged building is owned by Jinbo LLC, according to Anchorage property records. Several officials listed for that company are also listed as officials at the companies that own the Northern Lights Center strip mall — Yoo Jin Management Company Ltd. and Mush Inn Corp., Alaska corporate records show. The three companies also share the same mailing address, according to state records.

Miller said he's seen the building owners twice in the past year, "basically just complaining about the fact that they're not making enough money."

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, one of those owners, Gino Yoo, said he was awakened at about 2:30 a.m. to a phone call about the fire.

Standing in a tidy home in a South Anchorage subdivision Wednesday afternoon, Yoo, owner of just under a third of Jinbo LLC, said he'd been awake ever since. He said he'd spent the day on the phone trying to coordinate displaced families and insurance.

"It's obviously a devastating fire," Yoo said. "We're trying to accommodate as much as we can, to the best ability we can right now."

Three displaced families had been moved to empty apartments in the neighboring building, Yoo said. He said the plan was to move the rest to the Black Angus Inn, in Fairview.

"We're trying to get them better accommodations. We're working really hard right now," Yoo said.

He said he was heading to Costco to buy bread, milk and frozen dinners for the displaced families.

Yoo grew up in Anchorage and now lives in Orange County, California. He and his wife are in the process of moving back to the city after sending their kids to college, he said. He said he only got to town about two weeks ago.


Yoo said he didn't know what had caused the fire. He referred liability and insurance questions to a lawyer, who didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.

Asked why the building did not have a sprinkler system, Yoo pointed to the age of the building and noted sprinklers weren't required. He said the building had passed inspections every year.

"Everything was up to date, up to code," Yoo said.

He also said the corporation took care of the building and performed regular maintenance.

Yoo declined to further discuss the corporation company or the other people involved in it. But he said he and the other owners were still in shock.

State records list the other owners of Jinbo as Diane Yoo Bourne, Rachel Chung and Shawn Yoo, all of California, and a Yoo family trust with an address at the South Anchorage home where Gino Yoo was staying.

Annie Zak

Annie Zak was a business reporter for the ADN between 2015 and 2019.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.