By Carey Restino
An early morning fire in the East End Mini-storage facility in Kachemak City drew a quick response from firefighters, but not quick enough to keep many from losing precious photographs and memorabilia, not to mention valuable equipment.
Libby Bushell, known to many as the leader of the Homer Wilderness Leaders (HOWL) program, posted a photo of her burned unit on Facebook, noting that she had lost “28 years of photos, journals, papers, clippings, letters, homemade prom dresses, trophies, original art and so many memories that wouldn’t fit in my tiny cabin.”
Bushell said the fire also devoured her winter gear and mountaineering equipment, and a huge inventory of camping and expedition gear.
“But the worst is definitely the journals and letters and all my old darkroom-developed photographs,” she said in an email.
Johanna Fraiman, owner of the muti-unit storage facility, said Monday that she had been hearing stories like Bushell’s all day.
“I’ve been doing a lot of bereavement support,” Fraiman said.
According to Homer City Fire Department Chief Bob Painter, the storage unit fire was reported shortly after 4 a.m. on Sunday morning. By the time fire department personnel arrived 10 minutes later, several units in the center of one of the middle rows of the building were actively burning. The department was able to attach to a nearby fire hydrant and use a high-pressure water deck gun to nock the blaze down pretty quickly, dumping some 12,000 gallons per minute into the fire at one point. The fire was quickly contained, he said. Salvage and overhaul of the units, however, took some 12 hours more. Kachemak Emergency Services firefighters provided mutual aid, with some 16 firefighters participating in the initial effort.
During the fire, several explosions kept firefighters and bystanders on their toes. While the unit owners are not supposed to store flammable items in their storage areas, firefighters pulled out numerous propane tanks and other items from the units.
“There were a couple of impressive explosions,” Painter said, adding that firefighters found some bullet fragments 100 yards from the fire. “It is similar to fighting a garage fire. The units are full of people’s stuff, and it could be anything in there.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation with both the fire department and the property owners’ insurance agency looking into its cause.
Fraiman said though the 30 units or so destroyed in the blaze were a great loss, they feel fortunate the fire was contained at the size it was.
“I have a lot of praise for the fire department for keeping it minimized,” she said. “I’m very grateful they stopped the fire from spreading.”
Fraiman said in the 17 years they have owned the business, there has never been a fire, and she is saddened by the destruction and loss to her customers. Some people had multiple units in the burned building and lost a great deal.
Derek Reynolds, owner of Cycle Logical, a bicycle shop that rents office space from the facility, said he got a call from a friend who had heard about the fire shortly after it started. By the time they got there, the flames were high above the structure. Reynolds said he had a storage unit holding bicycles and other equipment was nearer to the blaze, and was initially concerned that they might need to pull bikes out, but the fire department quickly had the fire under control.
“It was definitely disconcerting to drive toward that big smoke column and the bright orange glow,” he said. “I just want to express my gratitude and appreciation for the fire departments response.”
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