Priscilla Dipola was one of the last residents to make it out of the 12-unit apartment complex near Norman Street and Debarr Road as flames spread through part of the building Sunday afternoon.
Dipola said she grabbed her dog and a few valuable possessions and ran from her home without shoes on when she realized the building was on fire just after noon.
Police later arrested 23-year-old Paul Bates for arson and other charges. Court documents filed with the charges said he set the apartment building ablaze after a neighbor refused to give him a cigarette.
Bates appeared at the Anchorage Correctional Complex courtroom for a Wednesday afternoon hearing in handcuffs, at times mumbling and argumentative. He walked away and refused to participate in the hearing after an outburst during which he told Anchorage District Court Judge Michael Franciosi that he wanted to represent himself.
Public defenders were present and the hearing continued without him. Dipola was there, along with other displaced tenants.
Franciosi set Bates’ bail at $35,000 cash, required a court-approved custodian and barred him from possessing any incendiary materials or devices upon release. Bates also has a $25,000 bail set on a separate criminal case that’s been reopened due to his violating conditions of release.
Bates’ actions could have resulted in multiple deaths, the judge said, referring to the charges.
Dipola and other residents have been unable to live in their apartments since. The landlord is working to reconnect the utilities, Dipola said, but it isn’t clear when that will happen or if they’ll be able to return in the near future.
The American Red Cross provided financial assistance for 21 people who live at the building, located on the 6000 block of East 12th Street, a Red Cross spokeswoman said.
At least five units were destroyed by the fire, the charges said. Other apartments likely have varying levels of damage, including from smoke. The charges estimated there were hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the building and to property.
Dipola said she feels lucky the flames did not spread to the apartment she shares with her son and fiancé, but all of their belongings smell strongly of smoke. The family has been staying at a hotel since the blaze.
Dipola said she doesn’t have renter’s insurance. Some neighbors lost all of their belongings and are now trying to figure out where they can move their families, she said.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “It’s not just my home that was destroyed, it’s everybody who was in there, all my neighbors, everybody’s displaced. What are we going to do?”