Fire marshals investigate blazes in Soldotna, Kenai

Posted: Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Fire investigators are trying to determine the causes of two residential fires Saturday night, one in Kenai and one just outside Soldotna.

The origin of neither fire is being considered suspicious. No injuries were reported.

Central Emergency Services firefighters were called to a report of smoke coming from a three-bedroom, ranch-style home on Bel-mont Court off Ciechanski Road shortly after 7 p.m. Saturday.

The first firefighters on the scene reported seeing smoke coming from the eves of the house, but no visible flames. A small fire was found in a walk-in closet and was quickly extinguished, but not before causing major damage to the building's heating system and electrical wiring in a crawl space.

Homeowners Roger and Kristina Mendenhall and their 9- and 10-year-old boys were not home at the time.

The fire was declared under control within 30 minutes of the first arriving fire truck and was out 25 minutes later. CES responded with one fire engine, three tankers, a ladder truck, one medic and one command vehicle.

According to CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale, the fire originated in the crawl space near the heating system, but the exact cause of the fire has not been determined.

The American Red Cross is coordinating temporary housing for the Mendenhalls. The estimated property loss is $30,000. The value of the the house and contents is $220,000.

About three hours later, a fire destroyed a 10,000-square-foot mansion on Sunset Boulevard in Kenai, belonging to Jesse Wade, owner of the Wade Oil Field Service Company. The mansion was at about Mile 14 of the Kenai Spur Highway.

The owners of the home were in Texas, only living in Alaska seasonally during the warmer six months of the year.

Because rubble from the three-story structure collapsed into the lower level of what's left of the home, fire investigators anticipate needing a couple days to determine the origin of the fire.

"There's no reason for us to believe there was any wrongdoing," said Kenai Fire Chief Scott Walden on Monday.

"We're obligated by state law to investigate the origin of all fires," he said.

Kenai and Nikiski firefighters responded to the blaze with more than 20 emergency personnel and seven fire engines and water tankers.

Walden said the homeowner has been contacted in Texas and informed of the fire.

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