Positive ID of fire victim still pending

The State Medical Examiner has not yet positively identified the adult killed in a house fire last Friday. Homer Police Chief Mark Robl on Wednesday said an autopsy was done Tuesday, but a comparison of dental records still needs to be done to verify the victim’s identity. 

Robl said the family of the person believed to live in the home has been notified that the fire victim might be a relative. The cause of death also has not yet been released. No foul play is suspected.

The adult died in a house fire on Rainbow Court in downtown Homer on the morning of June 13. A neighbor called in the fire about 10:40 a.m. 

When firefighters arrived, the northeast corner of the home where the fire started was fully engulfed in flames, said Homer Volunteer Fire Department firefighter and acting fire chief Dan Miotke. 

Joe Brunner, who lives across the street from the house that caught on fire, said a woman up the hill had called him when she saw smoke coming from the home. The house has a second story over the garage. Surrounded by thick alder bushes and trees, it is not easily visible from the street.

Brunner told the woman to call 911 and went to the house. Brunner said he went in the front door and called the name of the person who lived there, but got no response. Smoke 3- to 4-feet thick covered the room, he said.

“I had to go back out,” Brunner said. “I couldn’t breathe.”

Brunner and firefighters were not injured.

Miotke and two other firefighters were the first to arrive. Safety rules call for two firefighters to be outside when two go inside. Knowing a victim might be inside, firefighters can waive that rule, Miotke said. The first responders did that. Brunner told firefighters the location of the victim’s bedroom in the northeast corner of the home, and they took a hose line and went in to search.

“We went in that direction,” Miotke said. “There was heavy smoke and flames. We knocked the fire down and got most of it extinguished in that area. That’s where we located the body.”

Miotke said it was obvious that the person had died.

Firefighters covered the body with a tarp to preserve the scene for an investigation and out of respect for the victim and to keep other firefighters from having to see the body. 

The fire apparently had been burning some time before firefighters got there, Miotke said. The roof over the back bedroom was close to collapsing. Smoke was so thick in the house that it built up pressure and was coming out of a chimney. 

It’s unknown still if the house had working smoke alarms, Robl said. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Officials from HVFD and the State Fire Marshal’s office are investigating the fire.

Robl said the body was found in a hallway outside the bedroom. He said it’s possible the person was trying to get out. Police do not suspect foul play or anything suspicious, he said.

“Right now the facts are pointing to an unattended death in a fire situation,” Robl said.

Firefighters using a hand thermal camera re-entered the burning home to search for more possible victims. No one else was found. No pets were found, either, Miotke said. Family members of the victim who might have been at the home were later confirmed safe elsewhere.

Ammunition in the home popped off as it exploded, but did not pose a threat to firefighters or neighbors, Miotke said. After the fire was put out, police helped secure firearms found in the house.

Units from the Homer Volunteer Fire Department, Kachemak Emergency Services and the Alaska Division of Forestry responded with at least 20 firefighters and six trucks at the scene. Homer Police and Alaska State Troopers provided traffic control.

Firefighters ran hoses from a hydrant in front of the home and from a hydrant on Kachemak Way, the nearest main street. Tankers, fire engines, utility trucks and an ambulance filled the side street. The fire did not spread to nearby structures. Workers with the Homer Electric Association also responded to turn off power to the house.

Miotke said that in situations like a fatal fire, firefighters can do what’s called a critical incident stress debriefing.

“We do our best to talk to the crews and the personnel and get a feel for how everybody is doing,” Miotke said.

Robl said it could take several days to do a positive identification of the fire victim. Police will release the name of the victim when that’s done.