When Joshua Stephenson opened the door to his downtown Juneau home Monday morning, the smell of smoke wafted in. Moments later, Stephenson recalled, he and his wife realized the smoke was coming from their own home.
Stephenson and his wife, Giovanna Campagnolo, were able to safely escape their home at 505 N. Franklin Street (at the corner of Fifth and Franklin, next to the Russian Orthodox Church), Stephenson and fire department authorities said at the scene Monday. Their dog Nymeria also escaped unharmed.
Stephenson’s mother — Juneau author and Alaska State Writer Laureate Ernestine Hayes — said at the scene that she is the owner of the house. Hayes said she bought the house about a month ago and was in the process of moving her belongings from her old house to the new one when the fire began.
On the scene, Capital City Fire/Rescue Fire Marshal Dan Jager said it was unclear what the cause of the fire was, but it doesn’t appear to be suspicious. It appeared to start on the third floor, Jager said, and Stephenson said the fire was in the master bedroom on the third level. Stephenson said he believes the house is insured.
After Stephenson and Campagnolo thought they smelled smoke, Stephenson recalled, Campagnolo walked up the stairs where she had been cleaning. Moments later, she came running down the stairs yelling to Stephenson there was a fire upstairs, Stephenson said.
He didn’t remember exactly how their fire extinguisher ended up in his hands, he said, but he did remember the scene in the master bedroom on the third floor.
“There was really thick smoke in there,” Stephenson said at the scene. “I got down real low and was spraying the fire extinguisher over the bed to where the flames were coming from and had to start backing out because the smoke was so heavy, so thick.”
Nymeria, an American Terrier named after a direwolf from “Game of Thrones,” was upstairs at the time as well, Stephenson said. He said he hurried Nymeria down the stairs and ran outside, yelling for people to call 911.
In a nearby park, Linda Williams was walking her dog when she heard loud popping noises. She said she then heard Stephenson and Campagnolo yelling for help and saw the sky above the purple house filling with smoke.
“You just see the smoke coming out from the top, a lot of smoke,” Williams said. “It started out real heavy and fast.”
Williams then called 911, she said, at 10:36 a.m.
Hayes, who was at her old house organizing her belongings, came to the scene a little while after the fire began. Hayes said she had only moved in the day before, but that Stephenson and Campagnolo have been living there for a few weeks. The two of them, Hayes said, had been doing home improvement projects throughout the house in preparation for Hayes to move in.
She said moving into this home was the beginning of a dream of hers coming true.
“It’s bigger than the house I was in and it’s always been my dream to have a family home,” Hayes said. “I grew up in the Juneau Indian Village, and of course, back in those days people had family homes where there were two or three generations, so that’s always been my dream. When this became possible and we talked about it and decided we could do that here.”
Hayes complimented the response of the firefighters, including one responder who saw blankets and artwork in the house and moved the items to a safer location.
According to the city’s inventory of historic buildings, the building is known as the Devigne-Dapcevich House. It was constructed in 1913 for Dr. Henry C. Devigne, who served as the Commissioner of Health for the territory from 1922-1933, according to the registry.
Monday’s fire was the third major fire in the area since September 2017. On Sept. 17, 2017, two men died in a fire at 526 N. Seward Street. On April 16 of this year, a fire began at Barnaby Brewing on Franklin Street, just three blocks south of where Monday’s fire happened.
Hayes looked over at the Seward Street house, which was still boarded up Monday morning, and said she considered her and her family to be fortunate.
“We look one block away and see how bad things can be,” Hayes said. “We’re grateful and relieved that it was contained and the firefighters and first responders in Juneau did such a wonderful job right away.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.