Polaris fire still being investigated, foul play ruled out
A week after a fire destroyed the Polaris Hotel, Bar and liquor store, authorities are still investigating the extent of the damage and the cause and origin of the fire.
According to Alaska State Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters, two deputy fire marshals traveled to Nome on November 1 to investigate the cause and origin of the fire. Peters said it is an ongoing investigation and that the Nome Police Department has jurisdiction over the case. Nome Police Chief John Papasodora said once the fire marshal’s reports are out, NPD would release further information.
Papasodora also said that the cause of the fire does not appear to be of suspicious origin.
According to a press release from the City of Nome, the fire was first detected by Dae “Justin” An, who smelled something burning in the building. He investigated and once he opened the door to the liquor store, a flame ignited due to the influx of oxygen to the room. An then alerted people staying at the hotel that there was a fire and got them out. “Due to his quick actions, he was able to evacuate many people from the hotel. His actions saved lives,” said the City’s press release.
Although the exact number of occupants at the Polaris that night has not been established yet, Chief Papasodora said that nine rooms were rented out. The owners, Tina and Kwan Yi, were at the time in transit to their journey to Korea and were not in Nome.
Five people were transported to Norton Sound Health Corporation to be checked for smoke inhalation but were released.
One person, Bette “Boop” Haugen, 63, was missing and unaccounted for. Once the fire was brought under control, Nome Police conducted a search for Haugen with the assistance of NVFD member and equipment operator Shane Smithhisler and a backhoe donated to the effort by Charles Reader. While searching the debris, the body of Haugen of Nome was recovered. The State Medical Examiner was notified and an autopsy has been requested.
As of press time on Tuesday, the medical examiner has not released his report, but next of kin were able to identify Haugen at the scene.
The building is a total loss and in order to keep people out of the ruins the City’s Public Works Department boarded up doors and windows on the street level in order to secure the building.
Smoldering hot spots kept on flaring up, forcing the Nome Volunteer Fire Department to respond five times to flare-ups until the last hot spot was extinguished on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m., according to NVFD Chief Jim West Jr.
Fire Chief West Jr. said it was agreed on that the fire was not intentionally set as there were no signs of accelerants in the ruins. On Tuesday, Nov. 7 insurance adjusters had traveled to Nome to meet with fire department personnel and to investigate the fire for insurance purposes.
The next steps depend on the findings from the fire marshal’s office, the insurance adjuster and the police investigation. City Manager Tom Moran said if the state fire marshal, the fire chief and the insurer agree that the building is a total loss, then it would be likely that the building is torn down since it is a hazard and a liability.
The fire department also issued a reminder to households and businesses to test smoke detectors, to review and practice fire escape plans and to check fire extinguishers. The NVFD offers assistance with escape plans, new smoke detectors or fire extinguishers.