House fires spark interest in fire protection

Posted: Monday, January 27, 2003

Three house fires in Kasilof in less than two weeks have again brought attention to the fact that the community lies outside the Central Emergency Services fire protection district and many homes there are uninsurable.

One house burned to the ground near Crooked Creek on Jan. 13, a modular home burned to the ground Wednesday morning and another house caught fire Wednesday afternoon but was saved by the quick work of neighbors, according to CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale. No one was injured in any of the fires.

Because a criminal investigation is being conducted by the state fire marshal, details of the Jan. 13 fire were unavailable, but Hale said the first fire Wednesday, believed to have been caused by faulty electrical wiring, destroyed the home of the Lyle Chesley family and all of the family's belongings.

"We had gone to take our girls to school at Tustumena (Elementary School) and then went to the grocery where we got the call," Chesley said Friday.

Chesley, who moved into the three-bedroom modular home a year ago with his wife and four children, said he was not able to get insurance because the house was outside the fire district and because it was a modular home built on pilings instead of a solid foundation.

"The Kasilof community has overwhelmed us with support ... food and clothing," Chesley said. "They're the greatest people I've ever met."

The Chesleys plan to rebuild on the same lot.

"With this community, we wouldn't dream of living anywhere else," the self-employed heating equipment service man said.

No one was home at the scene of the second fire Wednesday either, and neighbors who saw the fire quickly formed a bucket brigade and doused the fire with water and snow.

The home on Ryden Street is owned by Lonna Beam. The cause is being attributed to a wood-stove stack fire.

"We have had a continual increase of fires in the Kasilof area and it's out of anyone's (fire protection) district," Hale said.

"If the homeowners don't have dedicated wells for fire fighting or sprinkler systems, or neighbors don't notice a fire start, the house will burn to the ground," he said.

The CES fire protection district stretches from Jim's Landing at Mile 58 of the Sterling Highway, near Cooper Landing, to Cook Inlet, down to Mile 103 of the Sterling Highway at Irish Hills Road and to the beginning of Kalifornsky Beach Road.

The closest fire district to the south of Kasilof is in Ninilchik.

"For those people (in Kasilof), fire safety tips are very important," said Hale.

He said homes should be equipped with smoke detectors inside and outside every sleeping room and on every level of the home; they should have fire extinguishers and family members should know how to use them; families should have an escape plan and practice it; carbon monoxide detectors should be installed; and heating equipment should be inspected and cleaned each year.

As far as obtaining fire protection service, Hale said Kasilof residents could petition to annex into the CES fire district, they could establish their own volunteer fire department or they could buy a fire truck and protect themselves.

The latter option, however, comes with significant drawbacks, including a huge amount of liability, he said.

CES Chief Jeff Tucker said agencies outside the central fire district are welcome to attend training at the CES station on a weekly basis. At times, CES has taken the training to agencies including Funny River, Cooper Landing and Ninilchik.

If Kasilof were to have its own fire department and a dedicated source of water, homeowners could acquire insurance at substantially lower rates than currently available for some homes.

CES officials said their staff also would help a new Kasilof fire department meet state requirements, receive documented training and work toward required certification.

Chesley, who on Saturday moved his family out of the Aspen Hotel in Soldotna where the American Red Cross put them up for three nights, said when he gets back to Kasilof, he plans to initiate support for a fire department there.

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