An early morning house fire Wednesday claimed the life of a Kenai resident and forced the evacuation of a neighboring apartment building.
The name of the victim was being withheld pending notification of relatives Wednesday, but State Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Propst said the remains were those of a man. Propst said the body would be sent to Anchorage today.
A preliminary investigation revealed the cause of the blaze was accidental and related to smoking, said Kenai Fire Department Chief Jason Elson. The house was considered a total loss with damage estimates at $100,000, Elson said.
Firefighters were called to the mint green, one-story ranch home at 1216 Lilac Lane around 3 a.m. and found the structure completely engulfed in flames. The body was discovered during a search of the house after the fire was extinguished.
Light rain with little wind aided firefighters. Elson said the blaze was brought under control in less than an hour, but not before residents of an adjacent four-plex less than 20 feet away were evacuated.
Mike Gale, a resident of the four-plex, said he was initially awakened by the magnitude 4.8 earthquake that shook the area just before 3 a.m. He said he happened to look out the window and saw the flames.
"By then the police were there," Gale said. "And it wasn't too long before we had to leave."
He and the remaining residents were allowed to return to their apartments two hours later.
"We've got some good firemen in this town," said Gale, who just moved to Kenai from Kasilof. "They did a super job in keeping the fire away from this building."
No other homes were affected.
The body was found in the dining area, near an adjoining living room that contained a small couch. The couch was very near the fire's origin, Elson said.
"Given the evidence at the scene, it indicated a slow, smoldering type of fire that burns over a long period of time," he said. "We found no traces of accelerants and given the position of its origin, found no external heat sources that could have contributed to it."
He said the springs of the couch were almost completely flat, another indicator of a hot, smoldering fire that slowly reduces the tensile strength of the metal.
"We see these types of indicators and it kind of points us toward cigarettes," Elson said.
Kenai Fire Marshal James Baisden said he found no evidence of smoke detectors in the house.
"Those types of smoldering fires can range from three to eight hours before being detected," Elson said. "They are the types of fires that produce thick, dense smoke and heat that can reach 1,500 to 3,000 degrees. A smoke detector would pick up that kind of problem early on.
"We can't stress enough the use of working smoke detectors and fire exit drills in the home."
Elson said Wednesday's blaze was the first full structure fire in Kenai this year.
"It has been an outstanding year, and I would like to think it has been because of education, code enforcement and fire prevention," Elson said.
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