The Ministorage Fire
Juneau Empire Article #2

Storage fire investigation continues
June 4, 2002

Web posted Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Storage fire investigation continues
Renters resume salvaging efforts after Sunday blaze destroyed millions of dollars of property

The cause and source of a fire that destroyed a self-storage facility near Lemon Creek on Sunday morning may never be known, a fire official said today.

Fire Marshal Randy Waters said he is continuing to investigate the fire that caused millions of dollars in private-property damage and destroyed a building at the Juneau Self-Storage facility. He is sifting through the rubble for clues and interviewing witnesses and renters.

"There's about one-billionth of a chance we will be able to determine the exact point of origin and cause," said Waters. "The fire was devastatingly hot and virtually destroyed the pointers we usually see. They're just gone. Things like burn patterns and areas left standing are just nonexistent."

So far, arson is not suspected, Waters said. A preliminary report may be available by the end of the week, he said.

Nearly 150 renters and agents on their behalf combed through rubble Monday and today looking for anything salvageable.

Larry Spencer, general partner in Salmon Creek Partners, which owns the storage facility, said he wanted to get tenants onto the site as quickly as possible to increase their chances of salvaging belongings and to speed cleanup efforts.

Spencer said he anticipates that today will be the last day renters will be allowed to search the debris. Depending when an investigation requested by Salmon Creek's insurance company, Safeco, takes place, cleanup crews may start clearing the site Wednesday. Damage to the 14,000-square-foot building is estimated at $750,000.

Waters said the fire was so hot and caused so much damage because of the density of items packed into the storage spaces. Materials such as ammunition and cylinders of propane added to the fire's intensity, firefighters said Monday.

Firefighters said Monday that 3,000 rounds of ammunition stored in one of the units exploded during the blaze. Spencer said he does not know who owned the ammunition or why the person had 3,000 rounds. He said the lease agreement doesn't allow renters to store anything that was explosive or flammable. He said he would examine each request by a renter to store weapons on a case-by-case basis.

Waters said that during his investigation he recovered numerous firearms and ammunition from the rubble. He said at least 10 percent of the units had weapons in them.

Police Capt. Tom Porter said that although it may be unwise to do so, it is not illegal to store ammunition in a public facility, nor is it illegal to own the amount of ammunition that firefighters referred to.

Firefighters alleged Monday that doors were left open in the storage facility. According to Porter, this could indicate arson.

But Waters said it is possible tenants left the doors propped open, and a security guard in charge of securing the area may have failed to close them before the fire started.

Spencer said there's no hard evidence that the doors were left open and said he believes they were closed, judging by the way they fell in a "closed position" in the rubble.

Porter said it is possible that if, as first reported by the fire department, the fire started in two locations, that also could indicate arson. Waters said there is no evidence so far that the fire started in two places.

Spencer said he did not know how the fire started and would not speculate whether it was arson. However, he is confident it was not from a malfunction in the facility's boiler or the electricity system, two possible fire-starters in homes.

Spencer said the boiler room was the least damaged, so most likely wasn't the cause of the fire. Also, power in some of the units shuts off automatically when tenants leave, and some units don't have electricity.

Melanie Plenda can be reached at [email protected].