An early Saturday morning fire in a carport near the airport is being investigated as arson, said Capital City Fire/Rescue’s fire marshal in an interview.
The fire began at around 3:30 a.m. at Smith Hall, a property managed by the Juneau Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and destroyed three cars while damaging four more, as well as slagging the carport itself.
“Early on, when I was talking with the first arriving firefighters, they were describing fire conditions that are not typical for that type of construction,” said fire marshal Dan Jager in a phone interview. “We’re also looking at video footage that shows an unidentified person walking off in the distance. Shortly after they leave, there’s a large flash and lots of fire coming out of the carport.”
The flare of the ignition could be seen reflecting off nearby windows in footage taken from businesses in the area, Jager said.
“The one thing we’re fortunate about is, there’s 58 residential properties that we’re grateful are safe,” said Dave Ringle, general manager of St. Vincent de Paul. “It’s too close to residents. We’re just hoping the investigation finds a clear cause.”
There were enough red flags with this fire to call it arson, Jager said, the largest of 2021 so far. It’s now the subject of a joint investigation between CCFR and the Juneau Police Department.
“I’ve dealt with larger cases in the past, but this is definitely a significant one,” Jager said. “The question we’re dealing with is, why would someone burn senior citizen’s property or automobiles?”
The destroyed carport was assessed at approximately $40,000, Jager said. Ringle said they’re currently working with residents and their insurance to assess the vehicle damage.
“We’ve got three that are completely totaled. There’s also four that have varying degrees of heat damage,” Jager said. “With the heat damage, you have to look at the value of the vehicle.”
Much of the fire damage to the vehicles is replaceable, though finding parts for some vehicles that are of an older vintage may be an expensive proposition, Ringle said. Getting a hold of a suspect is going to be a process of investigation that could hinge on a single point of data, Jager said.
“If anyone has any early photos or videos, we’ll try and gather that as well. Even the smallest details can actually be really helpful,” Jager said. “There’s a lot of little puzzle pieces in an arson case. That’s how we solve them.”
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