Unattended Candle Cited As Probable Cause Of Gastineau Apartments Blaze

An unattended candle likely caused last week’s fire at the Gastineau Apartments in downtown Juneau.

Fire Marshal Dan Jager said an investigation determined the blaze started in the bedroom of an apartment on the fourth floor, in the back corner of the building.

“We know that the fire occurred on the floor in close proximity of a bed that was in there. This was all verified by the occupant who had come home and found the fire,” said Jager. “We can’t pin down that it was an unattended candle, but after eliminating all the other potentials, that’s the only possible heat source that we can find where the fire had started.”

Jager declined to name the person who lived in the apartment, because he does not expect any criminal charges or citations. He said the person tried to put the fire out with an extinguisher, but for some reason was unable to get it to work properly. He also said they did the right thing by going door to door and alerting other residents of the blaze.

The Gastineau Apartments were built in 1917 and the building was not required to have a sprinkler system.

Jager said he and Fire Chief Rich Etheridge spent most of Monday assisting three insurance companies with their investigations.

“They did a walkthrough of the building to see overall how the damage was, and took their own photographs, took notes,” Jager said. “They’ll be doing their own interviews with occupants. A lot of it is stuff that we’ve already done, but it’s them doing their own independent investigation.”

The building itself was insured in addition to two businesses on the ground floor. Jager also believes some tenants may have had renters insurance.

The structure and property were valued at $1.8-million before the fire. Jager said he’s still working on an estimated dollar value for all the damage, which would include people’s personal belongings.

The building’s owner, James Barrett, said he will wait for the insurance companies complete their investigation before deciding whether to tear down or rebuild.

Barrett had speculated the night of the fire that a candle was likely to blame.

Jager said unattended candles are often responsible for residential fires. In most cases, he says, it’s completely avoidable.

“They seem like they’re very safe,” he says. “But we always tell people, if you’re going to leave the room, just blow the candle out.”

Jager recommends various alternatives, such as electric candles or candle warmers, for people who still want the ambience or aroma without the risk of fire.


Casey Kelly is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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