Ernestine Hayes, with her son, Joshua Stephenson, left, and contractor Derik Wythe gives a tour of her fire-damaged house at the corner of 5th and Franklin Street on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ernestine Hayes, with her son, Joshua Stephenson, left, and contractor Derik Wythe gives a tour of her fire-damaged house at the corner of 5th and Franklin Street on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Raze or rebuild? Downtown house fire fallout still not settled

Insurance negotiations put plans on hold

The fate of a North Franklin Street home is still undecided almost a year after a fire.

The purple, historic home at 505 N. Franklin St. belongs to Alaska State Writer Laureate Ernestine Hayes, and was badly damaged in a late May blaze last year that started in an upstairs room.

“A lot of people ask me all the time what’s going on with the house,” Hayes said while showing the Juneau Empire around the house in an effort to satisfy some of that public curiosity.

Her colleagues at University of Alaska Southeast, where she is a professor of English, even started a now-closed GoFundMe campaign, which Hayes said helped defray the cost of dual mortgages she pays for the damaged property and a separate 12th Street residence she owns.

[Hayes reflects on time as Alaska State Writer Laureate]

The 12th street property now houses her as well as her adult granddaughter and her family, who Hayes said had planned to move into the Franklin Street house.

At the time of the fire, Hayes’ son, Joshua Stephenson, his wife, Giovanna Campagnolo, and the couple’s “local pound puppy,” Nymeria, were living in the home, and Hayes was moving into the house that had been purchased about a month earlier.

Ernestine Hayes gives a tour of her fire-damaged house at the corner of Fifth and Franklin Street on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ernestine Hayes gives a tour of her fire-damaged house at the corner of Fifth and Franklin Street on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Stephenson and Campagnolo were home at the time of the fire, but no one was harmed in the fire.

“It was bad luck but good fortune,” Hayes said. “It was bad luck we had the fire, good fortune no one was hurt. Even the dog was OK.”

Stephenson and Campagnolo have been able to relocate to former carriage garage located next to the fire-damaged house. However, it is not a full-time solution. Campagnolo works for the Alaska Marine Highway System and Stephenson splits his time at his mother’s other property.

The reason for the delay in further addressing the fire damage despite some less-than ideal living situations is the anticipated cost and a lack of an agreement with the house’s insurer, Hayes, family and a contractor said.

“Just to take the walls and ceilings out, it’s $250,000,” said Derik Wythe, contractor for Southeast Abatement, who has cleaned the house of debris.

The smell of smoke is present throughout the property, and fire and smoke damage are evident — particularly near where the fire started.

Ernestine Hayes gives a tour of her fire-damaged house at the corner of Fifth and Franklin Street on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ernestine Hayes gives a tour of her fire-damaged house at the corner of Fifth and Franklin Street on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Wythe said repairing the house would cost an estimated $700,000, which would also be about the cost of tearing it down and rebuilding.

“It’s more than the value of the house because it’s an all lead-based paint interior, so it’s HAZMAT clean-out,” Wythe said.

The building is valued at about $300,000, according to City and Borough of Juneau records. Those same records indicate the home was build in 1910, but according to the city’s inventory of historic sites, the building listed as the Devigne-Dapcevich House was built in 1913.

Hayes said the insurer offered slightly less than $200,000 for the damages, which her independently hired adjuster determined was too low. The insurer did not respond to a call seeking comment.

“We’re stalled,” Hayes said. “Our adjuster hired an attorney and we’re looking into alternatives.”

[Photos: A tour of the fire-damaged historic home]

The possibility of litigation is being considered, but Hayes said she’s hopeful negotiations will ultimately work out and middle ground will soon be found.

“It doesn’t have to be rebuilt as a vintage house,” Hayes said. “It can be rebuilt as anything. I’m going to be 74 in July. I want to settle. In both ways. I want to settle, and I want to be settled.”

However, what will ultimately be done with that potential money is up in the air.

The family and contractor outlined three main options: The home can be razed and rebuilt, it can be repaired or the bare minimum amount of abatement can be done.

In that last scenario, Hayes and family members would use their money to finish making the home into a livable space.

“Whatever way to go that is the most efficient, economical, timely and convenient that everyone agrees to, then I’ll go for that,” Hayes said.

Cause and effects

In the aftermath of the fire, a Capital City Fire/Rescue investigation did not turn up a definite cause, but two potential causes were identified: Wiring and smoking materials.

[Fire marshal: Downtown fire likely caused by electrical wiring or smoking materials]

Hayes and Stephenson said they generally lean toward the wiring being the more likely culprit, but Stephenson said he had been smoking marijuana in doors prior to the fire.

The fire was not deemed suspicious, as the Juneau Empire reported earlier.

Stephenson said he was outside smoking a cigarette when his wife stopped making a Memorial Day lunch for a planned family event and alerted him to smoke and fire inside the house.

“She had come downstairs and said there was smoke and a fire, she handed me a fire extinguisher and I ran upstairs, and I started spraying it around, but the smoke was way too heavy,” Stephenson said. “The dog was wrapped around my feet as I was trying to backpedal out, I almost tripped over her, and I kicked her down the stairs.”

He became overwhelmed while recounting the events and hugged his mother.

The fire did not climb into the house’s attic, where the family’s regalia was being kept. Hayes and Stephenson credited both CCFR and the old, sturdy materials used to make the building with saving those items.

“The fire didn’t reach here and all of our regalia was up her for Celebration, but the smoke and the water came up here, and we had to have our regalia treated, and a couple of the button blankets smell like smoke, but it turns out that we belong to the Kaagwaantaan Clan, and one translation of that is burnt house people, and so I’ve had people I respect tell me our blankets smelling a bit like smoke adds to their value and meaning rather than detracts from it. We take some comfort in that.”


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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