FAIRBANKS — Authorities confirmed Thursday that a homeless man who suffered serious burns in his camp off the Johansen Expressway last week has died.
Pedro “Peter” Lugo, 67, died early last Friday morning at Harborview Burn Center in Seattle, according to the Fairbanks Fire Department.
Police and fire departments are still investigating the cause of the fire, but there has not been any evidence of foul play, Fairbanks police chief Laren Zager said.
This conclusion comes in spite of the belief among many homeless Fairbanks residents that Lugo was set on fire deliberately, Zager said.
Police believe the fire started as a runaway campfire because Lugo was “awake, alert and lucid” while being loaded into the ambulance and spoke with paramedics about whether he would have a wheelchair at the hospital, Zager said. “I am told that during the whole episode in his conversations with paramedics he said nothing about being attacked,” Zager said.
However, he said Lugo was not specifically asked about the cause of the fire.
Police have also been unable to find evidence of fresh tracks around Lugo’s camp or find an eyewitness to confirm how the fire started.
Police plan to examine Lugo’s clothing for evidence of gasoline or other substance that might have been used to set him on fire, Zager said.
The fire was reported by a motorist on the Johansen Expressway who saw the fire from the road about 7 p.m. on May 12. The fire consumed about a tenth of an acre and was contained by firefighters within about 10 minutes. Lugo’s camp was across the expressway from Home Depot.
Lugo was from Delano in the central valley of California, and came to Alaska to work on the cleanup of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill said his sister, Gloria Carrillo, who still lives in California. He has seven siblings and two sons who still live in California, she said.
He spoke fluent English and Spanish and liked to use a few words of Japanese that he learned when he was in the Navy in the 1980s.
In Fairbanks, Lugo was well known and well liked by other homeless people, said First Presbyterian Pastor Andy Ekblad, who knew him for about five years.
At the church’s weekly community dinner that Lugo used to attend regularly, about 50 people held an impromptu service for him. Fairbanks City Mayor Jerry Cleworth, who also attends the church, remembered Lugo as a “friendly, sharp guy.”
The Ecumenical Mission for Shelter is planning another service for him at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church.
Both the Fairbanks fire and police departments are looking for additional information for their investigation into Lugo’s death. Contact the fire department at 450-6615 and the police department at 450-650.
Fairbanks police can be reached at 450-6500.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.