Saturday fire devastates Chugiak home

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 - 01:25
Saturday, Jan. 28 blaze started in garage, spread to adjacent bedroom
  • Flames shoot from a house on McManus Drive in Chugiak that burned on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. A couple inside the home escaped without injuries. (Photo courtesy of Brian Johnson)
  • The garage and bedroom of this home in Chugiak were completely destroyed by fire on Saturday, Jan. 28. The home's living room and kitchen survived the blaze but suffered heavy smoke, water and structural damage. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

A Chugiak couple was without a home Saturday after fire tore through much of their house on McManus Drive.

B.J. Lebeck and Brian Johnson were enjoying a leisurely afternoon when the fire broke out.

“I was watching TV, waiting for the snow to quit so I could plow the driveway,” Johnson said Sunday outside the remains of his former home.

He tried to fight the blaze, but the flames moved too fast.

“I hit it with two fire extinguishers right off the bat and called 911,” he said.

At that point, the couple knew they were out of time.

“It was grab a couple things and try to get out of the house,” he said.

Both escaped unharmed.

Personnel from the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department responded to the fire, which was reported shortly after noon on Saturday. Chief Clifton Dalton said 16 units responded. The fire was reported at 12:34 p.m. and the first firefighters on scene arrived eight minutes later.

"They were here pretty quick," Johnson said.

Lebeck said she bought the house in 1994. She was still waiting to meet with her insurance company Sunday, but said it appears the home could be a total loss.

“The main part of the house, what wasn’t burned is extremely smoke damaged,” she said.

The garage was burned to the ground and the roof caved in on the couple’s bedroom. The only part of the house that remained somewhat intact was the living room and kitchen, and even those areas were heavily damaged by smoke and water.

“It’s pretty much everything,” Johnson said of the extensive damage.

Dalton said firefighters were able to knock the fire down before it could spread to the main part of the home.

Lebeck and Johnson were trying to keep a sense of humor despite the devastating loss. After Lebck said she worked at Moose Run Golf Course, a reporter asked if the couple were golfers.

“We used to be,” Johnson joked, motioning toward the remnants of his garage, where he and Lebeck kept "three of four" sets of golf clubs.

The cause of the fire has not been determined.

“We have no idea what started it,” said Johnson, his hands and forehead covered in soot from sorting through the ashes.

The couple spent Sunday afternoon picking through the ruins and meeting with a local restoration company, which made sure the water was turned off and the home as secure as possible. Lebeck said they were also considering boarding up the windows because the fire department told them vandals often hit burned-out homes.

They’re not asking for any help from the community at this point and said they’ve found a place to stay while they figure out what to do next.

“A friend of mine live just down the road so we’re staying there for now,” Johnson said.

House fires in Alaska are an all-too-common occurrence in winter, and Dalton said folks should take the time to check smoke detectors and make sure things like furnaces and chimneys have been inspected. Another way people can help firefighters, he said, is to keep an eye out for hydrants that are buried in snow. Although the department tries to dig out as many as it can, he said it's a big help when community members take it upon themselves to help out.

"It would be a big help if people would adopt a fire hydrant and dig it out for us," he said.

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