While the rest of the state is gearing up for wildfire season, Unalaska’s emergency responders spent Wednesday fighting an industrial fire inside a local longshore warehouse. The building appears to be a total loss.
Uber Sosa is a dock worker for Pacific Stevedoring. At 5 a.m. Wednesday, he was at home — in a dormitory right next door to the warehouse that his company leases from the Ounalashka Corporation.
Suddenly, Sosa says: “Someone woke me up. I was sleeping. It was the police, came knocking on everybody’s door, telling them to get out. So everybody had to get out, and we didn’t have time to get anything.”
The warehouse was on fire, and smoke was blowing through Sosa’s bunk. Sosa says he and about 20 other people made it out safely.
Meanwhile, more than 15 emergency personnel – along with volunteers from the Department of Transportation – started fighting the blaze.
They blocked off East Point Road around the warehouse and began pumping water inside.
After 11 hours, the building was still on fire – but also still standing. City workers used an excavator to peel back the charred aluminum siding and allow better access to the fire inside.
Steam and smoke were billowing out of the structure, but the fire stayed contained.
Fire Chief Abner Hoage says the warehouse was full of basic but highly flammable materials. There may have been tar-coated fishing nets:
“It was reported that there were about 20 pallets of wax-coated fiber board in there, as well as a whole bunch of empty pallets,” Hoage said. “And of course, that stuff burns really hot and really long.”
A little over a decade ago, a fire ripped through another structure in the same location as this warehouse. It contained the same kind of materials – pallets and fiber board. Hoage says that fire took three days to extinguish.
“So it could be a while getting everything completely out, to where it’s safe for us to go in and evaluate what happened,” Hoage said.
Hoage says that firefighters will stay on site as long as it takes. But at this point, it
doesn’t look like there’s anything left to salvage.
Hoage estimates between $1.5 and 2.5 million worth of damage has been done, including the value of the physical structure and the equipment stored in it.
That’s a big enough loss to trigger an investigation by the state fire marshal. They were expected to send representatives to Unalaska on Thursday to determine what caused the fire.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is also keeping an eye the fire.
Unalaska’s fire department used chemical foam to smother the flames Wednesday morning. Some of that foam leaked out of the building and onto the beach, about 100 yards away.
Fire Chief Hoage says they stopped using the foam and let the DEC know about the contamination.
“DEC sent a local rep out to take some pictures of the foam in the water and you can see a lot of that’s dissipated,” Hoage said. “And the Anchorage office has been notified.”
Managers for Pacific Stevedoring, which rents out the building, and the Ounalashka Corporation, which owns it, are cooperating with the investigation. But neither company could be reached for comment.