5 children dead in Butte trailer fire
Alaska State Troopers say a Butte fire claimed the lives of five children early Thursday.
Word of the fire, on Wickham Drive, reached troopers just before 7 a.m. according to an online dispatch. Two of the children -- all believed to be girls ranging from ages 3 to 12 -- were initially unaccounted for.
"The remains of five children have been recovered from the burned-out trailer," troopers wrote in an update on the fire. "Investigation into the cause and circumstances of the fire is ongoing."
Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said nothing further was available Thursday on whether the fire is initially considered suspicious.
“With trailer fires in general, they burn very hot and very fast,” Peters said. “It doesn't give a lot of time for people to move around. Certainly smoke inhalation is always a concern, too, with fires.”
Peters called the fire's effect on the close-knit Butte community "devastating."
“It's devastating-- It's devastating on the whole community, the neighbors, law enforcement, people that respond to it, the firefighters that respond to it,” Peters said. “Any death is bad enough, but then you have five and they're small children – it really is going to be impacting the community for a while.”
When asked where the children’s parents were and what started the fire, Peters would only say that “it's an ongoing investigation.”
Otto Feather, the Mat-Su Borough’s director of emergency services, said by phone that Thursday was a “tough day.” About 20 firefighters from various fire departments headed to the scene, with first responders shortly after 7 a.m,. finding the trailer fully engulfed in flames.
“Butte, Palmer and Central (Mat-Su) Fire, as well as borough [emergency medical services] responded,” Feather said. “I’m very proud of their efforts and all the work they put into handling this situation.“
Feather declined to further discuss the fire, noting that the scene was now under troopers’ jurisdiction.
Jillian Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the Mat-Su Borough School District, said response teams including grief counselors had been sent to sites within the district Thursday affected by the fire. She declined to name those sites pending identification of the victims.
"Right now, we're just trying to make sure that we have people in place," Morrissey said.
The death toll in the Butte fire is one of Alaska’s most severe in recent years, surpassing that of February’s Royal Suite Apartment fire in Anchorage which killed three people. Anchorage Fire Department Assistant Chief Alex Boyd said Thursday that no fire with five fatalities had been reported in town since the early-1990s.
Troopers said remains will be sent to the State Medical Examiner's Office for autopsy and positive identification.
Bonney Bowman contributed information to this story.