Three people died early Friday morning in a fire at a low-income apartment complex in Bethel, according to Bethel Fire Chief Daron Solesbee.
“There were reports of people who were entrapped. We were not successful getting anybody out,” said Solesbee.
Solesbee said he could not publicly identify the victims. He also said an additional two people were taken to the hospital, but he could not comment on their current condition.
The fire took place at the Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority Low Rent Unit apartment complex at 409 Ptarmigan. Fire Chief Solesbee says he and his staff responded to the fire at 4 a.m. with several fire trucks and ambulances. The fire smoldered until late Friday morning and destroyed two of the building’s six units, according to Solesbee.
The three people who died in the fire were in one unit, and the second unit that burned was unoccupied, he said.
Galen Frank lives in the unit next door to the two units that were destroyed.
“I kept smelling something burning and I had guests at my place. I go, ‘are you smoking cigarettes?’ They said, ‘we don’t smoke cigarettes. And we smell that too.’ So I went outside. I started seeing smoke coming out of the other apartment. And right away I call 911,” said Frank, who along with some neighbors was able to escape.
Other residents reported hearing screams from the burning unit and said that they saw at least one man jump from a second story window. Most people evacuated from the nearby units when they smelled the smoke.
In total, six units were impacted by the fire. In one of those apartments, resident Michaela Mike said that she got out in the nick of time.
“My mom yelled and saying there’s a fire. There’s a fire. And I just got up and gathered my kids and their blankets and grabbed whatever and ran out the door. And I saw the fire. If my mom wasn’t there, I think I wouldn’t have woke up,” said Mike.
Mike said that she had to leave all her infant’s necessities behind, but those items weren’t her main concern. Right now, she’s mourning the neighbors she knew and cared for who were lost in the fire.
“They were really kind,” said Mike.
The president and CEO of AVCP Regional Housing Authority said that the organization was temporarily relocating all of the affected residents into unoccupied units on the other side of the larger 31-unit complex. He also said that the building where the fire occurred is likely at least three decades old.
Fire marshals from Anchorage are in Bethel investigating the cause of the fire.