The Alaska State Fire Marshal’s office last week closed two buildings at a Homer area wedding venue.
In a press release issued on Aug. 29, the State Fire Marshal said it had issued closure notices for two buildings at AK Diamond J Ranch Wedding Venue on Perkins Road off Jones Road near Mile 18 East End Road. Alaska State Troopers on Aug. 27 also issued a summons to the venue owner, Billy Jones, 40, alleging he violated Alaska state law that requires a plan review of structures regulated by the State Division of Fire and Life Safety.
In early March, deputy fire marshals investigated AK Diamond J Ranch Wedding Venue. In the press release, the fire marshal’s office alleged at least two buildings on the property had been built or use of the buildings had changed without a State Fire Marshal Plan Review. Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Daniel Cox wrote in the complaint for the case that on March 6 officials issued a “stop work/do not occupy” to Jones. On March 7, Jones notified the State Fire Marshal’s Office that he would use the buildings only for personal use, Cox wrote.
In the press release, the State Fire Marshal’s Office wrote that a follow-up investigation on Aug. 27 revealed the buildings were still being used as part of the wedding venue. Troopers then posted the buildings “Closed. Do not enter. Unsafe to occupy.”
In an email, Bill and Stephanie Jones, the owners of AK Diamond J Ranch, sent this statement:
“Bill and Stephanie Jones and AK Diamond J Ranch want to sincerely thank everyone for their support and apologize for any concern or stress that this situation has caused anyone. We assure our neighbors, friends and guests that we are not violating any regulations, but remain committed to doing whatever it takes to resolve this issue as quickly as possible with the state. We are not shut down and we are not out of business. Instead, the state is simply preventing us from using two of the accessory structures on our land. We are certain that both structures are solid and safe, one of which has been in use for 20 years. Our goal is to work with the state to quickly resolve its concerns so all our guests may enjoy a private, peaceful weekend with close friends and family. My family has enjoyed this amazing property for generations and we are honored when someone requests to host their private event here. We will continue complying with the law in every regard and correct any oversights — should any exist — as quickly as possible. Once again we thank you all for your support, and appreciate your patience.”
Jeff Morton, a deputy fire marshal and supervisor of the Life Safety Inspection Bureau, confirmed that AK Diamond J Ranch remained open for events as long as the two closed buildings are not used. Citing the ongoing judicial process, Morton declined to identify or describe the closed buildings.
In an email, Jones said one building is a pole barn that is completely open on three sides and has no floor and the other is a single-story, one-room 1,100-square-foot barn with multiple exits that they have been using for more than 20 years.
Although AK Diamond J Ranch is in an unincorporated area of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, under state law commercial buildings used for assemblies like weddings require State Fire Marshal’s Office approval depending on the kind and level of use. The office looks at things like exits, construction and emergency lighting, Morton said. The office also wants to make sure that if something happens to the building like a fire or earthquake the building will be able to maintain itself so people can get to safety.
“We’re reviewing the building in totality, but also making sure it has the life saving equipment,” Morton said on Tuesday. “You and I would be able to walk in without any skills or knowledge and hopefully be able to exit the building if something happened.”
Morton said the State Fire Marshal’s Office isn’t being capricious in its investigations or enforcement.
“Our office is designed around compliance,” he said. “… We don’t have a quota. Other than the concept of building safety, that’s it.”
Morton said he could not comment on the AK Diamond J Ranch case while it goes through the judicial process. He also declined to say how the incident came to the attention of the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
In the press release, State Fire Marshal Rich Boothby noted several U.S. tragedies involving buildings with assembly occupancy such as the 2016 Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California, where 36 people died, or the 2003 Station Night Club fire in Warwick, Rhode Island, with 100 deaths.
“We take action because across the nation people are dying in occupancies that are not regularly inspected or reviewed for the basic protections required by the building and fire codes,” Boothby said in the release.
Jones has a court appearance and arraignment in the Homer Court on Sept. 17.