A fire on Sunday afternoon tore through a home on Peterson Street, leaving it "heavily damaged" and unoccupied as of Monday, according to the Ketchikan Fire Department's acting fire chief.
All people living in the building escaped unharmed, but a dog and a cat are believed to have perished in the fire.
Multiple people called to report the fire on Sunday afternoon, said Acting Fire Chief Scott Brainard, including Sonya Skan, the only resident who was home when the fire broke out.
In a Monday evening phone interview with the Daily News, Skan, a former Ketchikan School Board member, said she lived at the home with her husband, Norman Skan and two grandkids. She had just awoken from a nap on Sunday when she noticed smoke.
"I kind of smelled something and wasn't sure, and then I looked around and I noticed there was smoke," said Sonya Skan. "I tried to look at where the source was, thinking it might be something that was plugged in or something, and couldn't find it, and then noticed it was coming up through the basement. And that's all I know — I just reacted after that. I just got out, ... grabbed the animals that I could, and then I couldn't go back in."
"I didn't even have my purse or a pair of shoes or a pair of socks or anything," she later added.
Firefighters received the first report of the fire at about 2:26 p.m. KFD and the North Tongass and South Tongass volunteer fire departments all responded, deploying trucks to the scene.
"It was reported as a structure fire, so all three agencies were dispatched at the same time," Brainard explained. "It probably took about two hours to get the fire under control."
When crews arrived, the fire was "well involved," he said.
By about 2:45 p.m., a huge cloud of smoke from the fire billowed out above the Park Avenue area, blotting out the area's view of Deer Mountain. As emergency response vehicles drove to the scene, sirens wailing, a handful of onlookers tried to get a better view of the inferno from the boardwalk on Grant Street.
The Ketchikan Police Department set up a traffic blockade on the corner of Bawden Street and Park Avenue to divert cars from the firefighting.
Sunday's fire was the first at which KFD used its new ladder tower truck, Tower 1, to respond to a fire. Brainard said the tower was used to spray water and give firefighters access to the building.
"We also were able to reach where we weren't able to reach before," he explained. "From Park (Avenue) we were able to reach the back side of the building, and then we used that to cut holes into the building and to get water inside of it."
Those holes also allowed hot gases and smoke to escape from the building.
The tower also allowed a firefighter to cut a hole in the roof of the building with a chainsaw to vent hot gases from the attic space.
A neighboring building was threatened by the fire but ultimately was not damaged, Brainard said.
Once the fire was under control, firefighters spent another two hours on the scene doing what Brainard called "salvage and overhaul" — making sure the fire is extinguished inside, especially within walls and rubble, while also trying to protect any valuables.
An investigation into the source of the fire was underway on Monday. KFD Fire Marshal Gretchen O'Sullivan on Monday said the cause of the fire would likely be classified as "undetermined."
"The structure is unsafe, and trying to dig around underneath there isn't going to be safe for us to do too much more of," said O'Sullivan. "We're calling it undetermined just because we can't locate the ignition source at this point."
Brainard said he didn't yet have an estimate of the cost of the fire's damage to the property, but O'Sullivan said Monday that the damage was extensive.
"I don't believe that they're going to be able to salvage it. I'm sure their insurance company will have it evaluated, but the first two floors are pretty severely damaged," said O'Sullivan.
Still, the family was able to recover some things, Norman Skan explained on Monday.
"My four sons and I were able to go through the top floor and at least get quite a few of our treasures up there, a lot of artwork and stuff," he said. "They got smoke and water damage, but we're going to do our best to salvage as much of it as possible."
Besides the material loss, two members of the family are believed to have lost their lives in the fire: Buddy, a dog, and Kitty, a cat. Both had been part of the family for "a couple years," said Sonya Skan.
O'Sullivan said workers were able to recover Buddy from inside the building, but Kitty is still missing.
"We were unable to locate (the cat). It's possible it was in one of the downstairs bedrooms, but the floor on that level, there's some big holes that were burned through the floor, so we can't access those rooms," she explained.
For the time being, Sonya Skan and her husband, the former Ketchikan Indian Community president, are living with their two sons, Jalen and Trevan, about one mile north of town.
Though the experience is still fresh and feeling "surreal" — "I haven't quite digested it yet, and I don't think Norman has, either," Sonya Skan said — both are feeling grateful for the abundance of kindness in the community.
"I think we're just overwhelmed with the caring of people, the community coming in, just everywhere coming together and just lifting us up," Sonya Skan said. "It is amazing."
That kindness manifested in many ways: "tons of phone calls, ... messages on Facebook, messages on the phone, through our kids, ... through our grandkids," she explained.
"People are offering to cook us dinner — anything and everything," Norman Skan said. "That sort of thing just makes the situation a little more bearable."
"And right away — I have a friend who went to the store and got me basic needs that I wouldn't have even thought of, and brought us some stuff that was needed right away," Sonya Skan added. "So by the time I got to my boys' house, there was a bag full of stuff waiting for me."
Norman Skan was especially appreciative of the firefighters.
"Definitely I need to give a shout out to the fire (departments)," he said. "I heard the North and South and the city ones all chipped in and were able to at least control it from being much worse."
A neighbor, Dion Booth, made a GoFundMe to allow members of the community to donate to help them rebuild their lives.
At press time Monday, just 22 hours after the fundraiser was set up, the community had already raised $10,180.
"We're not materialistic people," Norman Skan said. "Things can be replaced, but ... family and friends (are) what everything's all about."