Building housing Skagway court destroyed in fire

Skagway Packer Building fire
Firefighters extinguish a Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023 fire at Skagway’s Packer Building. The building, which was home to Skagway’s state court, is a total loss. (KHNS)

A Sunday fire in downtown Skagway destroyed a large building that housed the Southeast Alaska community’s state court and multiple businesses.

The fire took all day and night to extinguish. 

According to a Skagway Fire Department statement, a call just before 10 a.m. Sunday reported a “big fire, black smoke and flames” at the Packer Building near 9th Avenue between State Street and Broadway. About half the building was engulfed in flames by the time responders arrived at the scene.

The crews on site connected their trucks to hydrants, doused the fire and prevented its spread to adjacent residences. Due to a strong north wind, the crews were unable to stage on the south side of the building. Homes there were evacuated. 

Borough Manager Brad Ryan, who was at the scene, said fighting the fire was a labor-intensive task.

“We had three trucks out there, three engines; we had pretty much all of our paid firefighter personnel out there, as well as several volunteer firefighters,” Ryan said. “There was probably maybe eight to 10 in actual turnout gear firefighters, then there were two police officers that showed up. Several public works employees helped manage lines, water, excavator to take the building down, and then just citizen volunteers helping keep people healthy, and pull hoses when they were out of the scene.”

The fire was mostly extinguished by late Sunday afternoon, except for some hotspots that firefighters continued to work on. The crews used heavy equipment to take down the remnants of the structure. Ryan said crews installed sprinklers to control the smoldering rubble, then worked in shifts throughout the night monitoring the scene.

In addition to the state court space the building housed a local business incubator, the Skagway Development Corp. A construction company, Hanson General Contracting, and a longtime guiding operation, Packer Expedition, were also based there. 

Emily Wright, the area court administrator, said the court system has already reorganized to keep functioning.

“We’ve routed everything over to Haines, our Haines clerk of court will be handling all filings,” Wright said. “We were able to switch over the phone numbers; they can still call Skagway, it will route right over to Haines. They can do everything electronically.”

Wright said no documents have been lost.

“The really nice thing is we had switched over to an e-filing system, so all of our files are electronic and they were backed up on Saturday night,” she said. “So that’s a good thing. So at this point, other than people not having a building to go to, there is no disruption in services.”

Tim Bourcy owned Packer Expedition, the guiding company that gave the building its local name. He was having breakfast with friends when he learned the business he has run for 30 years was going up in flames. He lost all the gear he needed to run his tours.

“There is a lot of material there,” Bourcy said. “It’s backpacking equipment, tents, sleeping bags, there’s a full commercial kitchen, there is rain gear, med kits; I mean, it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gear. No, this is a business-ending endeavor.”

Bourcy said he will not rebuild the business.

“You know what, I could, but I’m 60 and I’m not doing it again,” he said.

He said he is uplifted by the support he got.

“I mean come on, Skagway’s community is amazing,” he said. “All the firefighters, everyone that worked on that is amazing so yeah, it’s all good.”

Orion Hanson, the owner of Hanson General Contracting, also lost much of his business. 

“I got about 30 calls in about two minutes yesterday morning,” he said. 

Hanson rented shop space in the building. 

“That area of that building was built by the Army,” he said. “To my knowledge it’s always been a shop of some sort, and many many carpenters and mechanics operated out of there since World War II.”

He said enough of his tools were staged at various worksites around town that he is able to continue operating. On Monday he gathered his crew.

“We met like we normally do on a Monday, and we stepped beyond the fire protection zone and looked at it, and I looked at my team and said, ‘Well guys, let’s go to work. Be safe,’” he said. “In terms of having a company with skilled people and work to do, we’ve got work to do. So I’ll figure out how to rebuild and go on. But I’m still trying to figure out just what was lost really.”

Skagway Fire Chief Emily Rauscher said in the department’s statement that the state fire marshal’s office will inspect the site Tuesday to determine the cause of fire.

She also said the community support was truly exceptional. Residents showed up and provided food and drink during the fire, and got together to clean up after the fire was put out.

Previous articleBiden’s student loan relief faces its biggest test yet at the Supreme Court
Next articleTuluksak teachers trying to manage after 2 weeks without running water