Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Fires destroy cabin, damage tour boats


Weekend fires gutted a Mud Bay Road cabin and severely damaged the contents of a motel storage shed near 1 Mile Haines Highway.

A 7 a.m. blaze Sunday destroyed a wood-fueled heating system and damaged four commercial tour boat pontoons in a large shed behind Eagle’s Nest Motel. Seven hours earlier, a fire engulfed a 16-by-20-foot cabin near 6 Mile Mud Bay Road, destroying the structure and everything inside.

No one was inside either structure and no injuries were reported.

Fireman Al Badgley said the cause of the cabin fire is unknown, but may have been electrical. A malfunction in the wood-fueled heating system likely caused the storage unit fire, he said. Arson is not suspected in either fire.

Steve Barry, who lives in a home a few hundred feet from the cabin, reported the fire at about 11:50 p.m. Saturday, after his partner heard an explosion nearby and observed something burning and glowing from the home’s window.

Barry made his way down to the cabin, which was fully engulfed in flames. Barry said he was worried someone might be inside.

“That was my initial reaction, but I couldn’t get close enough to do anything. It was so hot. We didn’t find out until the next morning that there wasn’t anyone in there. I didn’t sleep at all that night,” Barry said.

The first firefighters arrived at 12:08 a.m.

Sylvia Heinz, who had only recently moved into the cabin, said she was out dancing with friends when she received a call from dispatch. Heinz drove out to the scene with friends KT Miller and Elly Rosing, who had been staying with her, to discover the cabin’s charred skeleton.

Rosing, who is visiting from Germany, lost all her belongings, including her passport, plane tickets, and travel gear. Though she lost most of her possessions, Heinz said she is grateful her bassoon was safe at another Haines residence.

Heinz said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of community support that included money, food, clothes and other necessities. “Honestly, the stuff (we lost) really does not matter at all. It’s all replaceable. It costs money, but it’s replaceable,” Heinz said.

Heinz said she was last at the cabin at about 7 p.m. Saturday night and didn’t know what could have caused the fire. The cabin didn’t have a wood stove or many sources of ignition, leading Badgley to believe the cause was likely electrical.

Badgley discovered two areas burned significantly in opposite corners of the cabin, but said “it is still undetermined exactly where it started and what started it.”

Damage is estimated at $35,000 for the cabin and $30,000 for its contents, he said.

Fire crews were called to the Eagle’s Nest storage shed after receiving a 911 call from Jane Clark, who lives nearby.

“All I saw was flames shooting out the top of the building and lots of black smoke. We just ran out and removed our vehicles from the area so the firemen could get in there,” Clark said.

Fire crews arrived in nine minutes.

Badgley attributed the fire to a large, wood-fueled heating system, which was contained in the shed and used to heat the motel. A 24-foot long, 8-foot tall rectangular Conex shipping container enclosed the heating system as a safety precaution.

“The fire should have been put out by the safety features; it wasn’t. The Conex should have contained it; it didn’t,” said owner Shane Horton.

Badgley said the fire melted through and escaped the Conex, igniting wood chips used to fuel the system. A sheetrock wall protected one side of the storage unit – Horton’s workshop – but the fire damaged four boats housed on the other side of the unit in addition to destroying the heating system.

Horton said the hulls of the boats were not damaged, but everything from the deck up – including electronics, steering and shifting mechanisms, and canopies – was ruined. He estimated damage at around $200,000, but said that was just a guess.

The wood-fueled system, which piggy-backed on a diesel system, reduced Horton’s diesel use from 100 percent to 30 percent; now he’s back to heating the motel entirely on diesel. Several part-time employees Horton hired to cut wood and manage the system also are out of work.

A fundraiser for Heinz, Miller and Rosing will be held at the Fort Seward Lodge at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 24. It will feature a movie, burger special, and kissing booth.