Monday morning fire displaces family

Posted: Tuesday, September 03, 2002

A Kenai family woke to find their apartment ablaze Monday morning. Two men suffered minor injuries as the family of five left the building -- most still in their nightclothes. The apartment was completely destroyed.

The Kenai Fire Department is investigating the cause of the blaze. Early estimates from the Kenai fire marshal said damages totaled about $45,000.

David Gattenby, 25, awoke Monday morning around 10 a.m. to find smoke coming from inside his mattress in his apartment at the 36-unit Kaknu Apartments on Peninsula Avenue in Kenai. Gattenby said the family lost everything.

His 17-year-old brother D.J. Little said he was asleep in the living room when he saw Gattenby and realized there was trouble.

"David comes out of the bedroom and he's running and there's a billow of smoke behind him," Little said.

Gattenby received minor burns on his face, hand and stomach and was taken by ambulance to Central Peninsula General Hospital. Little had bruises on his knuckles from trying to open an escape route, hospital officials said. Both were treated and released.

Also in the second-story apartment were Gattenby's aunt, Jamie Blanchard, 39, and his brother, Mark Gattenby, 19, and Maryah Adkins, 21. The younger Gattenby said he also was stirred from his slumber with news of the flame.

"I woke up and my fiancee Maryah told me the house was on fire," Mark said. "We got the ... out."

Apartment manager Bonnie Feik said her 6-year-old granddaughter Savannah Freeman was playing in a playground across the street from the apartments and saw smoke coming out of the window. The little girl reported what she saw and Feik said she looked out at the apartment and saw the family fleeing the apartment.

"About that time, they (Gattenby's family) all started pouring out of the building," Feik said.

Feik said she alerted emergency authorities and assembled all the apartment residents in the courtyard away from the building.

"I called 911 and and told everyone to come outside and go to the middle."

Little and the eldest Gattenby made a brief attempt to fight the fire before eventually giving up and departing, however.

"I (went) back in to check on things," Little said. "We tried to put it out and put some water one it. But we just said, 'screw it,' and got out."

Feik said she saw Gattenby and Little head back into the building and tried to stop them.

"They kept going back to try to put it out and I kept telling them to get out," she said. "You don't mess with fire."

Kenai Assistant Fire Chief Mike Tilly said the Kenai Fire Department received the alert at about 10:18 a.m. He said they were on the scene within four minutes with 10 Kenai firefighters, two Nikiski firefighters, a ladder truck and two pump vehicles.

Candie Allen lives in The Cedars, a complex across the street from Kaknu Apartments. She said she heard the first fire engine arrive and came out to make sure her building wasn't the reason for the commotion.

"When I came out, flames were barreling out the windows and over the door," Allen said. "In a couple of minutes, the fire department showed up."

Tilly said the fire engulfed the entire two-bedroom apartment, but took only eight minutes to bring under control.

"When the crews arrived, there was heavy black smoke, heavier at the rear of building, which tends to indicate where the fire started," Tilly said. "As soon as they got there, the front windows were broken out. The fire flashed out and had caught the front living area.

Tilly said crew members checked the units on both sides of the apartment and the one below and reported no fire damage to the adjacent apartments and only minimal water damage -- "leaking" -- to the ground-floor unit.

Little said six cats -- three adults and three kittens -- were living in the apartment with them, but only one kitten was found and brought out. Adkins stood by in tears, holding the lone kitten as firefighters entered the house.

Feik said she called building owner Mike Seaman after calling the fire department. On just her second day managing the building, she said she was concerned about her new job when she reported to the owner.

"I asked him if I was fired," she said.

Seaman said he told her emergencies came with the territory.

"We're breaking her in pretty well," he said.

He said his insurance will replace the apartment, but he was most concerned about their safety and finding Gattenby's family a place to live.

"It was so hot in there it melted the stereo and TV," Seaman said. "They were lucky they got out of there.

"We'll have to relocate him somewhere. We have empty units."

A similar fire broke out at the Kaknu Feb. 3, 2001, when a mattress caught fire and was extinguished. It later reignited, however, when the mattress was taken outside, and burned parts of the apartment balcony.

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