Hoonah Volunteer Fire Department firefighters battle a blaze at cabins in Hoonah on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (Courtesy Photo | Hoonah Volunteer Fire Department)

Hoonah Volunteer Fire Department firefighters battle a blaze at cabins in Hoonah on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (Courtesy Photo | Hoonah Volunteer Fire Department)

Gas explosion, boulder cause scares in Hoonah

One man treated for burns after cabin goes up in flames

It was a busy weekend for law enforcement officers in Hoonah, as a fire claimed multiple buildings and a huge boulder crashed into the middle of a street.

“It was kind of crazy,” Hoonah Volunteer Fire Department Chief Paul Comolli said Monday. “Usually we don’t have fires and landslides within 24 hours.”

At about 4 p.m. Saturday, Comolli said he was walking out of the grocery store with a gallon of milk when he got a frantic phone call. One cabin was in flames, with two more right next to it in danger of catching fire. The caller, Comolli said, was the owner of the cabins.

The owner was installing a new kitchen in the cabin and was having trouble getting the gas oven hooked up, Comolli learned. The space filled with gas, and when the pilot light ignited, there was an explosion that knocked the owner down and caught the cabin on fire.

The owner later told Comolli that he had been facing away from the explosion. When he got up after the explosion knocked him down, he found that the fire was between him and the door. Faced with no other option, the man ran through the fire and out the door, Comolli said.

The owner was later picked up by a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka helicopter and taken to Sitka for treatment, Comolli said. The man had only minor burns on his hands and face, Comolli said.

After getting off the phone with the owner, Comolli rounded up firefighters and went over to the cabins as quickly as he could. When they arrived, they found that two cabins were fully engulfed in flames and the siding and roof of a third was on fire, Comolli said.

They were able to extinguish the fire, but two cabins were a total loss. Comolli estimated the damage at $80,000. Nobody was living in the cabins at the time, Comolli said. The family that owns them rents them out during the summer to seasonal workers.

Comolli said it was very fortunate that the owner wasn’t knocked unconscious by the blast. If he had, he would have likely died in the fire, Comolli said.

“I would recommend that people never do those things in confined spaces alone,” Comolli said. “Have somebody with you when you’re installing a gas appliance.”

Just 12 hours later, another near disaster happened. Sometime between midnight and 4 a.m. Sunday, Comolli said, a huge boulder tumbled onto a road that was near the Hoonah ferry terminal. There was a 5 a.m. ferry, and employees who were coming to the terminal to prepare for the arrival found the boulder around 4 a.m.

“We’re just really lucky that the timing wasn’t two hours later when there was a little light traffic,” Comolli said.

The boulder, about 30 feet in diameter, settled to a place about 300 yards northwest of the ferry terminal. Nobody was injured, Comolli said, and two large front end loaders worked together to move the boulder to the side of the road by the middle of the day.

He said this is usually the time of year when landslides happen, and the hillside on that stretch of road is secured by a number of barriers to stop smaller rocks that roll down the hill. There are a few large logs that usually do a good job stopping rocks, but Comolli said this boulder “crushed them to splinters.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


Hoonah Volunteer Fire Department firefighters battle a blaze at cabins in Hoonah on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (Courtesy Photo | Hoonah Volunteer Fire Department)

Hoonah Volunteer Fire Department firefighters battle a blaze at cabins in Hoonah on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (Courtesy Photo | Hoonah Volunteer Fire Department)

A man poses with a large boulder that fell on a Hoonah road in the early hours of Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. Nobody was harmed. (Courtesy Photo | Hoonah Volunteer Fire Department)

A man poses with a large boulder that fell on a Hoonah road in the early hours of Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. Nobody was harmed. (Courtesy Photo | Hoonah Volunteer Fire Department)

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