ANCHORAGE - Morning in Midtown began with fire.
Calls to 911 streamed in around 8:40 a.m., as heavy smoke and flames poured from the roof and south side of this 24-unit building near 34th and Eureka.
For many inside, it was chaos.
“Pretty much everyone was just trying to get out of there,” resident Habib Azimi said. “At a moment like that, you don't think about anything but just getting out.”
As fire crews initially entered the building, many residents were unaware of the flames almost at their door.
John Payne was eating breakfast in his top-floor apartment when he heard other residents yelling about fire. “So I went back into my apartment, yanked the fire extinguisher to go see what I could do,” he said. “And well, the guy on the second floor… ‘cause I was hittin’ all the floors on my way down… he goes, that's not gonna work!”
The flames soon forced firefighters back outside, where they continued attacking the fire as they evacuated the burning building. Some concerned onlookers took time to help those in neighboring buildings. Cyril Kulteshev lived in a neighboring building, and sprang into action.
“I saw the fire starting to spread in the building next door, so I got everyone evacuated, started banging on doors, telling everyone to get out of the blaze,” he said. AFD eventually cleared the two adjacent buildings. “It's important to overcome that bystander effect of people just standing around thinking its someone else's problem.”
Eventually two adjacent buildings were cleared, leaving evacuees with nothing to do but wait — and watch — as firefighters fought the blaze.
Around 10:30 a.m., the fire was under control. The building’s roof had almost completely burned off, and AFD said not a single unit escaped damage. “Any time you see anyone lose their belongings and lose everything they have, it’s tough, the fire crews are compassionate with that,” Firefighter Al Tamagni said. “But their main concern is trying to prevent damage and conserve the property, make sure that nobody's inside.”
No one was killed in the fire. Two people were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. And in the wake of the fire were smoldering vehicles, gutted apartments, and dozens with nowhere to go.