Incense sparks structure fire

Posted: Friday, May 09, 2008

Central Emergency Services personal responded so swiftly to a structure fire on Wednesday evening, they might have been able to still smell the incense believed to have sparked the blaze.

According to CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale, at 9:36 p.m. on Wednesday, 911 dispatch received a telephone call from an occupant reporting a fire within his duplex off of Little Avenue in Soldotna. Within one minute the first unit arrived at the single story multi-family structure consisting of approximately 2,400 square feet and reported heavy smoke coming from the open front door of the residence, but no sign of active fire.

Five engines, one medic unit, three command vehicles, and 23 personnel responded to the incident. The fire was declared under control within four minutes of the first arriving engine, and out within an additional 15 minutes.

Hale said in terms of fire danger, candles and cigarettes typically trump incense.

"It's typically a low priority item, but anytime you light something and then walk away from it or leave it unattended, you're asking for trouble," he said.

Information provided by fire officials indicates Chris Ferrell, an occupant of the duplex, had been burning incense when he and his roommate, Josh West, left their apartment to visit friends for approximately an hour.

They returned home and were confronted with heavy smoke upon opening the front door of their apartment. West was able to make his way to his roommate's bedroom, located at the end of the hall, but discovered fire coming from underneath the closed door to the room. West immediately evacuated the building, while Ferrell called 911.

"They were quite fortunate they came home when they did and that the door to the bedroom was closed. It contained the fire to that room," Hale said.

Fire investigators determined the blaze began along one wall of the bedroom, where incense was left burning unattended.

"Apparently, the incense was wedged in place and not secured or in any type of designated holder," Hale said.

After reconstructing the fire scene, fire investigators said the most probable cause of the blaze was that the incense fell into surrounding combustible items, such as clothing, cardboard boxes and plastics.

"He had a lot of combustible items in that area," Hale said.

It is believed the glowing incense smoldered until sufficient heat was generated to produce open flame within the combustible material, rapidly spreading the fire within the room.

Major fire damage was sustained to one bedroom, along with moderate smoke and heat damage to the remaining area on one side of the duplex, causing an estimated $10,000 dollars of property loss from the $250,000 total property value. The attached second unit sustained minor smoke damage, with no visible fire damage.

No one, fire personnel or occupants, sustained any injuries related to the fire. Ferrell and West were displaced due to unsuitable living conditions within the unit, along with fire personnel shutting off utilities due to safety concerns. They declined assistance from the American Red Cross of Alaska.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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