Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:04 PM on Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Condo fire remains under investigation

Staff Writers


Photo by Michael Armstrong

The east side of the Landings Condominiums shows where the fire caused the most damage, completely burning the back of one four-unit building.

A week after a fire destroyed four condos at the Landings Condominiums, families have started getting their lives back together. Some owners have begun cleaning up and repairing less damaged units. No residents were injured in the fire at the complex at the corner of Landings Street and Lakeshore Drive on the south shore of Beluga Lake. Everyone evacuated safely. Firefighters also had no injuries.

Social service agencies and businesses have reached out to help residents displaced by the fire, but three families remain in need, said Homer Property Management general manager Jake Kemnitz.

Two families of single parents with children have temporary housing while another family of a mother and father with three children and a dog need a place to stay. All three families need beds, bedding and clothing. One family who lost a home had planned to move Outside before the fire.

Electricity has been restored to the 17-unit building, but the condos still do not have water. In addition to the four condos beyond repair, 10 units have minor smoke damage, and three units have smoke, fire and water damage but can be repaired. Residents can't move back in and repairs can't be started on most units until insurance investigators and adjusters process claims.

"It's pretty much waiting right now," said Christy Mershon, a board member of the Landings Condominium Association.

Insurance adjusters have cleared one condo for repairs. This week, workers with Custom Carpet Cleaning wearing respirators hauled out smoke damaged trash and boxed up household goods from that unit.

Some units were vacation homes and others were rented out as apartments by the condo owners. Not all the condos were occupied. Homer Property Management recently took over managing six rental condos.

Within days of the fire on June 27, Homer Property Management found temporary housing for some families in other properties. The Salvation Army provided emergency food boxes and vouchers for fire victims needing clothing, furniture, household items or every-day products. The Red Cross responded with a disaster team and met last week with families affected by the fire.

The fire was called in at about 4:20 p.m. June 27, with the first firefighters responding within five minutes and a fire engine within 10 minutes. Painter said the fire started on the back deck of apartment 23, an upstairs unit in the southwest corner of the L-shaped complex.

As of Tuesday, Painter said the cause of the fire remained under investigation.

"Nothing indicated malicious intent or purposeful action," Painter said of the investigation so far.

Nick, a Coast Guardsman from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hickory who didn't want to give his last name, said last Thursday that he attempted to put out the fire with extinguishers. He and others also ran through the complex banging on doors to make sure people got out. Painter said Homer Police also helped in notifying residents and accounted for everyone very early in the response. Nick said he had found temporary housing with a shipmate.

Fire engines and rescue trucks from HVFD and Kachemak Emergency Services quickly filled Lakeshore Drive as crews fought to save the complex. Firefighters spread hose from a hydrant in front of the Homer Brewery. Onlookers hampered the response when people drove down Lakeshore Drive, but police eventually blocked off both ends of the road.

The fire roared up the back wall of the building and quickly spread to the roof. Built in 1978, the complex is built in four-unit sub-buildings and one two-story corner unit that had good fire walls between sub-buildings that kept the fire from spreading, Painter said.

"We're very fortunate and we know that," Mershon, the condo board member, said of the fire not destroying the entire complex.

Firefighters could not save the four condos. Attack crews with breathing masks and tanks tried to make a direct assault on the fire and knock it down, but had to pull back when the back wall started to collapse and the floor became unstable.

"We basically at that point in time wrote off that center section and kept the fire from going in both directions," Painter said.

Firefighters cut holes in the roof of the building to keep the fire from spreading horizontally through the entire structure.

HVFD trucks responding included a fire engine, two tanker/pumper, an ambulance and utility vehicles. KES provided mutual aid with two more fire engines and a dozen firefighters. About 30 firefighters and crews from both departments responded. Firefighters left the scene about 12:30 a.m. June 28, but went back in the morning after receiving a call the flames had rekindled.

The fire caused about $750,000 in damages to the building and contents, Painter estimated.

Housing for fire victims is being provided rent-free for a month by Dave Whisman, owner of Whalesong apartments, and Scott and Barbara Smith, owners of YWAM, Youth With a Mission, on Svedlund Street.

"These are unfurnished and some of these people have lost everything," Kemnitz said.

Donations, including furniture, clothing and nonperishable food items, can be dropped off at Homer Property Management, 412 E. Pioneer Ave., Suite 200.

"We ask that you call us first and we'll arrange for a spot to put items," said Kemnitz.

Homer Property Management can be reached at 235-1958. Property owners who have apartments or homes to rent to the displaced families also can call Homer Property Management.

"As of right now, we don't know all that is needed," he said. "It's still a matter or trying to get people rehomed and going again. Once that is done and we actually get homes, then we'll go into the next stage of things."

For information of items needed by the fire victims, call Homer Property Management or visit Homer Property Management's newest Facebook site where additional information and photos of the fire are posted. The Facebook page also acknowledges donors.

The Salvation Army also will accept donations for the fire victims.

"You can drop stuff off if you know anybody's needs and let one of our workers know," said Jessica White, assistant manager of the store on Pioneer Avenue.

Rather than replacing items, the Red Cross uses a credit card-type system so disaster victims can purchase what is needed.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com. McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.