FAIRBANKS - Two bodies were found in the rubble of a fire that destroyed an apartment building in west Fairbanks early Wednesday morning, and fire officials still were digging through the debris Thursday looking for the cause of the fire — and possibly more bodies.
Fire officials say there still is a chance there are more victims buried in the rubble.
“We don’t know; that’s why going through every bit of this to make sure,” assistant fire chief Ernie Misewicz said late Thursday afternoon as he and other investigators sifted through the rubble left from the fire. “One of the challenges we have with big buildings is knowing who’s coming and who’s going. We don’t know who all was there.”
Firefighters and investigators found the first body Wednesday night around 8 p.m. as they were sifting through the debris while looking for the cause of the fire, Misewicz said. The second body was discovered by fire investigators about 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Fairbanks police also were at the scene investigating the fire.
The identities of the victims were not known and the bodies were sent to the state Medical Examiners’ Office in Anchorage for identification and cause of death, Misewicz said. He said hopes to have identities by early next week.
The 3:45 a.m. fire destroyed the two-story Geraghty Street building, which housed a second-hand furniture store on the first floor and apartments on the second floor. Fire officials believe the victims were in one of the second-floor apartments when the fire started.
Residents in the apartment building reported hearing a loud explosion before realizing the building was on fire. The fire spread so quickly that some residents were unable to get out of the burning building and had to be rescued by firefighters using ladders to reach them.
The fast-moving fire also severely burned another man, who was flown to a Seattle burn hospital. Other people were treated at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for lesser injuries, including smoke inhalation and cold-related injuries after they ran outside without shoes and socks. The temperature outside was about 15 degrees.
The fire damaged the building to a point where the building collapsed. Heavy equipment has been brought in to assist investigators with the removal of fire debris.
Investigators had gone through about half of the debris as of Thursday evening.
“Part of this is determining where the fire started and why it started,” Misewicz said. “It was a very big building, and we have to go through every bit of it so it takes awhile.”
Anyone with information regarding the fire is asked to contact fire investigators at the Fairbanks Fire Department at 450-6615.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.