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Early Friday fire destroys home: Officials investigate
Yellow tape wraps around the remnants of a home on Friday on Peterson Street. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

A fire engulfed a three-story house of Peterson Street early morning Friday, destroying a truck in the driveway, melting utility pole lines and charring the windows of a house across the narrow street.

The sole occupant woke up to the fire, which originated in the utility room, tried to fight it before hastening a retreat.

"But he couldn’t get to the door to leave so he broke out a window and climbed out," said Ketchikan Fire Department Chief Abner Hoage.

Three fire departments, two Ketchikan Public Utilities divisions, and the city public works and police departments were involved with logistical, electrical, and damage control associated with the fire.

The Ketchikan Fire Department got the call at 3:56 a.m. and responded in three minutes, according to Hoage. When they arrived, the house was "fully involved" and the occupant was outside between a vehicle and the house.

He had no serious injuries but was rushed to the hospital for possible smoke inhalation.

Firefighters started with a defensive strategy — setting up a perimeter to keep the blaze from spreading.

"No interior attack, because it just wasn't safe to do," said Hoage. "When there's not a life at risk like that and the structure is already fully involved, there's no reason to put a bunch of our lives in danger."

Besides the house across the street, the neighboring house about 20 to 30 feet up the street sustained damage.

"The vinyl melted, and the windows cracked; it was that hot," said Hoage.

Ketchikan Public Utilities disconnected the power in the area for the safety of the crews working on the ground.

"Some of the lines did come down," said Hoage, including "the drop to that structure."

Next door neighbor, Gwyneth Gilmon, a Peterson Street resident of 30 years, said power was restored but she didn't have TV or internet because some of the fiber lines burned up.

As of 3 p.m. Friday, crews from KPU's Electric Division and Telecommunications Division were still working on repairs.

Gilmon's cat, Shadow, ran away in the aftermath. She was unable to find Shadow by Friday afternoon, but expects it will come back when it's hungry.

The fire was controlled and contained to the house by 5 a.m. and was declared out at 7:30 a.m., according to KFD Assistant Fire Chief Scott Brainard. In total, three surrounding houses and several cars in the roadway sustained visual damage from the radiant heat from the fire, according to Brainard.

While the origin has been determined, the cause is still under investigation.

Terry Roberts, KFD's chief fire medic, is spearheading the investigation. The city has yet to replace former Fire Marshal Chris Grooms' whose last day was Monday. The hiring process is ongoing, according to Hoage.

"Even when Chris was here we had six fire investigators in addition to the fire marshal," said Hoage. "And so we have a pool of investigators to continue on."

South Tongass Volunteer Fire Department and North Tongass Volunteer Fire Department also responded to the house fire for a total of about two dozen firefighters at the scene.

North Tongass dispatched an engine crew of two and about six other people. They facilitated staging below Peterson Street on Park Avenue as the narrow, dead-end street didn't allow for much parking. The department also oversaw rehab for workers.

Hoage wanted people to be aware of the icy surfaces in the area from all the water used on the fire.

The Public Works Department came out and sanded the streets extra to make sure they were as clear as possible.

"Just be cautious if you're in that area," said Hoage, "Or any time after a fire when we have cold weather."