Washington man charged in Cantwell Lodge fire
A Washington man has been charged with arson following a fire that destroyed a portion of the Cantwell Lodge over the weekend, according to authorities.
Jayson Kapfer, 33, of Spokane, Washington was arrested on arson and criminal mischief charges after he was accused of setting the lodge on fire, according to Alaska State Troopers' online dispatch.
Troopers say there were signs that the building was intentionally set on fire and Kapfer fled the scene prior to crews arriving at the scene.
"Kapfer was located that afternoon while he was attempting to travel to Fairbanks on foot via the Alaska Railroad," troopers wrote. "Kapfer provided statements consistent with supporting the results of the investigation and statements made by victims and witnesses."
The Cantwell volunteer Fire Department received a call about a reported fire at the lodge sometime after 3 a.m., according to Cantwell Fire Chief Dale Nord.
Cantwell Lodge manager Josh Terry said the fire started in the bunkhouse which consists of six ATCO buildings connected together. He describes them as a trailer you would find on the back of a semi.
Terry said he was just heading to his room for the night when he could smell smoke. After checking around the area for the source of the smoke, he realized it was coming from the ground near his room from an unfinished vent project, which ultimately saved he and his two co-workers lives.
"A project left undone allowed a leak in the vent that sent smoke from one end of the building straight to my room -- alerting us, just by chance, that there was fire," he said. "Otherwise, we would have had zero idea we were fully engulfed."
Terry said he didn't see flames but could hear the "cracking and popping" and that's when he told the two other employees to get out.
"I turned around to the girls and said, 'One trip, grab what you can that you find that is most important and let 's get out of here.' We made the first trip out, and two of us turned around to go back in but the hallway was so engulfed, it was impassable for smoke and the flame was too much," Terry said.
Within about 20 minutes volunteer fire crews and people from the community responded the lodge.
Terry said something unusual they noticed were tires slashed on two vehicles outside.
Chris Bulard, the son of the Cantwell Lodge owner, took to Facebook to describe what happened at his family's lodge overnight.
Nord said the fire took at least three hours to contain with the help of fire crews from McKinley Village and Healy.
"I would consider it to be a total loss," Nord said about the fire damages.
No one was staying at the lodge beside the three employees, Terry said. One person was scheduled to stay at the lodge on Sunday, but will be upgraded to a room they rent out as an Airbnb at no extra charge.
Terry said this fire was a setback on a hopeful season ahead, but at the same time, it's giving them an opportunity to build an even stronger lodge.
"I like to look at the silver lining," he said. "And I say it's an opportunity to grow and expand in a direction we're already heading."
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
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