Juneau Assembly Praises Response To Gastineau Apartments Fire

The fire flares back up on the roof. Photo by Heather Bryant, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford says he was scared during Monday’s fire at the Gastineau Apartments downtown.

The former division chief with Capital City Fire and Rescue says the inferno could have gotten a lot worse.

“I was very worried about getting somebody hurt or killed, because in that situation you can’t foresee all of the possibilities,” Sanford said.

Fortunately, crews were able to contain the fire and keep it from spreading to adjacent buildings. Only four minor injuries were reported, though one cat apparently died.

Sanford says all things considered, the city’s firefighters did a great job, and everybody in Juneau should thank them.

“So if you know somebody, just stop ‘em. Say, ‘Hey, fireman, thank you very much,’” Sanford said. “That’s all you need to do and they’ll be very appreciative.”

Sanford’s comments came at this week’s Juneau Assembly meeting, which was originally scheduled for Monday night but cancelled due to the fire. It was rescheduled for Wednesday at noon.

City Manager Kim Kiefer told the Assembly she’s putting together a list of people to thank for the outpouring of support during the fire.

“Businesses, community members, people from throughout Southeast, the Governor’s office. Way too many people to note here,” Kiefer said. “But we are very touched by everybody’s support.”

Kiefer also said city staff would meet soon to debrief and talk about what went right and what went wrong during the response to the fire.

Assembly member Jesse Kiehl called the response “remarkable,” but suggested the city could better quell the social media rumor mill.

“I spoke with a friend who was married to a firefighter, and certainly the electronic media she monitors were spinning with news about the terrible number of firefighters who were dead,” Kiehl said. “Thank God that was wrong.”

Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker added that with dozens of residents displaced, the fire reinforces the need to find solutions to Juneau’s housing shortage.

“We not only have a problem with the people who lost their living places in the fire,” Wanamaker said. “But it makes the problem worse for when the legislature comes to town in just a very short while.”

Wanamaker suggested an Assembly subcommittee convene a meeting with developers and financial institutions to discuss barriers to housing development. Other members of the Assembly agreed, and Wanamaker, Kiehl and Carlton Smith were appointed to serve on the subcommittee.

Smith also asked the city manager to provide an update at some point in the future on the fire risk in the downtown area, where many buildings date to the early 1900s and are closely packed together.

Also Wednesday, Juneau Fire Chief Rich Etheridge said there’s still no determination on the cause of the Gastineau Apartments’ fire.

Etheridge said Fire Marshal Dan Jager believes he has pinpointed where the fire started, but is still trying to track down a key witness. Etheridge expects the investigation to wrap up in the next day or two.

He added that insurance investigators will do their own probe into what happened. Capital City Fire and Rescue will assist with the insurance investigation.