Anchorage, AK –
A major fire in East Anchorage Tuesday morning destroyed eight townhouse units at the corner of Baxter Road and East 41st Court.
Firefighters arrived at 4 a.m., a minute after the call, but were already too late to save the units. All of the residents managed to escape the blaze but most of their belongings were destroyed.
Officials say the fire compromised a natural gas line led to a buildup of gas in the crawl space and then ignited. There were three explosions in all.
The first explosion ripped through the buildings at about 5:30 a.m., an hour and a half after firefighters responded to the scene.
It’s unknown how the fire started but when crews got to the site it was fully engulfed. All residents, like Taiye Ulofonshio, could do was get out quick.
“The whole place is completely burned up,” she said.
When a neighbor pounded on her door she only had time to grab her two children.
“I called my son and my daughter; the fire was already by the window so we ran out of the house. We were unable to take anything. We all came out in our sleeping clothes,” Ulofoshio said.
After a 90 minute assault on the flames firefighters went inside to mop up — or so they thought.
A loud explosion caught their attention less than 30 seconds later, prompting firefighters themselves to evacuate the condos.
The explosions buckled walls and caused floors to collapse in some units.
“Gas seeped under a couple of the porches back there and then suddenly ignited and made that noise,” Anchorage Fire Department Battalion Chief Tom Kempton said.
Firefighters knew as soon as the arrived on scene that natural gas was fueling the blaze due to the color of the flames.
“When I see colorations of orange and blue flame and white flame — it’s very intense, it’s very hot,” Anchorage Fire Department Sr. Capt. James Dennis said. “It’s burning differently. I’m not getting the same steam rollover conversion with my water that I normally would. I can tell something’s in it.”
ENSTAR Natural Gas Co. ultimately dug up the gas line and severed it in order to cut off the supply. The service was resumed later in the day.
The American Red Cross of Alaska is offering what help it can.
“These families lost everything. They lost all of their possessions so the Red Cross is providing them with direct financial assistance,” spokeswoman Kelly Hurd said.
The building remains too unstable to let residents see whether any of their belongings can be salvaged — or allow investigators in to figure out how it all started. Still, they say from interviews it appears the blaze started outside the units on the backside. That’s where the flames damaged gas meters and led to the release of gas.
Eight families in all were impacted by the fire.