Fire destroys Soldotna strip mall

Investigators searching for cause of Friday blaze

Posted: Sunday, July 23, 2000

Six Kenai Peninsula businesses are looking for new homes after a fire destroyed the Anchor Plaza strip mall in Soldotna Friday night. (See related story, this page.)

Fire officials remained on the scene late Saturday afternoon trying to pinpoint the cause of the blaze.

Central Emergency Services and the Kenai Fire Department responded to the fire, which was reported at 6:31 p.m. Friday and was under control in less than three hours, said Gary Hale, CES fire marshal.

CES is currently working with Kemper Insurance on assessing damage. It also is working with John Glenn Investigators, a company which Hale described as a "cause and origin expert," to determine what started the fire and where.

Although the cause of Friday's fire has yet to be determined, there is no reason to believe it was arson, Hale said.

"We feel it was accidental," he said. "The most probable cause of this fire is electrical."

Total damage is estimated at $1 million, including fire, water and smoke damage. The majority of the damage was concentrated in the west half of the mall.

The strip mall is owned by Beezsinc -- a partnership of two area doctors, Theodore Barton and Bobbie Behrens. Six businesses occupied the mall, including the gynecology and obstetric practices of Barton and Behrens, the family medical practices of Marguerite A. McIntosh and John Standerfer, the podiatry practice of Harry Cotler, an Internal Revenue Service field office, a Special Olympics office and Peninsula Internet.

On arrival, CES noticed heavy smoke and flames coming from the west end of the building.

More than 25 firefighters arrived with four fire engines, three command vehicles, three medic units and one ladder truck.

One employee was in the building and was quickly evacuated.

Hale said the building was not equipped with sprinklers because they were not required when the building was constructed. One alarm system was located in Dr. Barton's office, but the system was located below the ceiling underneath the fire, Hale said.

The fire traveled into the attic, burning between the existing ceiling, sub-ceiling and roof.

Firefighters cut a trench in an area near Peninsula Internet at the east end of the building, creating a defense line. When the fire made its way to the trench, Hale said, firefighters then applied a water curtain that cooled the flames and kept the unaffected side wet.

Within one hour, Hale said, due to the hazardous conditions of the fire, a decision was made to evacuate firefighters from the building and they were allowed to fight the fire only from the outside of the mall.

At times, Hale said, visibility was zero across the Spur Highway, but there have been no reports of any illness from the smoke.

Black smoke that rose from the burning building was caused from the flat tar roof and foam insulation, both carbon-based materials, Hale said.

Two firefighters were injured during the blaze after falling from ladders. Both men were treated on site and did not need further care.

Building officials condemned about 70 percent of the building Saturday, due to extensive fire and water damage.

The building was assessed at $900,000, Hale said.

Susan Anderson, with Choice Reality, the company that managed the building, said the structure was approximately 15 years old.

Hale said CES sees more residential fires than commercial fires due to fire inspections.

Hale likened Friday's fire to one that occurred in July of 1996 in the Trumpeter Apartments in Soldotna. During the Trumpeter fire, flames spread rapidly along the ceiling and spread to the attic because there were no fire stops.

In all, 17 firefighters from Soldotna and six more from Kenai responded to the 1996 blaze. Four engines, three ambulances, a ladder truck and a rescue truck were dispatched to the scene.

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