FAIRBANKS - One man suffered critical burns and several others were taken to the hospital with minor injuries after a fire gutted an 18-unit apartment complex and second-hand furniture store on Geraghty Street in west Fairbanks early Wednesday morning.
Firefighters using ladders rescued several people from the second floor of the burning building because they weren't able to reach the hallway to escape, assistant fire chief Ernie Misewicz with the Fairbanks Fire Department said. It was a dramatic scene.
"They were either standing at windows or on balconies to apartments and we helped them down the ladder," he said.
One man who made it outside the building before firefighters arrived suffered critical burns and was medevaced to the Harborview Burn Center in Seattle.
As of 4:30 p.m. firefighters were still digging at the scene for any indication of unaccounted for occupants of two of the 18 apartments. There's a "possibility" someone else might have been in the building, Misewicz said earlier in the day.
Several occupants of the building were taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for treatment for minor injuries such smoke inhalation, burns and cold-related injuries after fleeing the burning building without shoes and socks in 15-degree temperatures.
More than 50 people were displaced by the fire and the Red Cross set up a shelter at the University Community Presbyterian Church on College Road for those without a place to stay. There were about three dozen people staying at the shelter, Misewicz said.
The two-story Geraghty Street Building contained a second-hand furniture store, The Tag Store, and offices on the first floor and apartments on the second floor. The fire, reported at 3:49 a.m., destroyed the building.
The cause of the fire is unknown but flames were coming out of a second-story apartment in the middle of the building when firefighters arrived on scene. Several people had made it outside by the time firefighters arrived while others were trapped in their apartments by the flames, Misewicz said.
Some of the residents told firefighters they were awakened by fire alarms while others said they were alerted by people banging on their doors, he said.
Firefighters entered the building to conduct a search and attack the fire but were forced to retreat when portions of the second floor began to collapse about 20 minutes after they arrived. At that point, firefighters could only attack the fire from the exterior.
Both Fairbanks fire chief Warren Cummings and Misewicz described the fire as "significant."
"We had fire from one end of the building basically to the other," Cummings said. "Pretty much the whole top floor got involved."
A building attached to the west end of the burned building, the Homegrown Market, suffered some damage as a result of firefighters cutting into the ceiling but should be repairable, the chief said.
About three dozen firefighters from six fire departments battled the blaze. In addition to the Fairbanks Fire Department, the Chena-Goldstream, Fort Wainwright, North Star, Steese and University fire departments rendered mutual aid.
Fire investigators will be going through the debris to determine where the fire may have started and what started it, Misewicz said.
Those interested in making donations to the people displaced in the fire should contact Michelle Daku, American Red Cross of Alaska district director at 456-5937 or 978-4597.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.