Fosbee owners required to upgrade electrical system

Fosbee Apartments at 359 Distin, about a block from the Alaska Governor’s house.

Fosbee Apartment residents say fire alarms have gone off a lot recently.

Wednesday night’s was the second this week. Juneau Fire Marshal Dan Jager said it was an electrical fire, with no flames, just smoke. Firefighters found hot spots inside walls in two apartments.

Jager said some tenants have also told him that they’ve had electrical issues in their apartments.

“So with these recent incidents we’ve had this week, generated from a fire alarm activation and our response, that’s how we were able to determine this is an electrical issue,” Jager said.

The 30-unit apartment house on Distin Avenue is about a block from the Governor’s house. It was built in the 1930s and does not have to meet modern day codes. But CBJ Building Official Charlie Ford said safety is an issue at the Fosbee. He said an electrical company was brought in on Thursday “to see how serious the situation is.”

Ford said Fosbee owners will have to work with the CBJ Building Department and fire marshal’s office to bring the building into compliance with fire and electrical codes. According to the CBJ Assessor’s database, the building is owned by Allan and Sally Engstrom. It’s managed by Juan Munoz.

The Fosbee building is perched on Distin Avenue. Apartments on the back side have a nice view of downtown Juneau.

The Fosbee is nearly 80 years old and it’s not clear how many upgrades have been done. But like a number of older homes and other buildings in Juneau, it has been grandfathered under a previous electrical code. Ford said the city does not require an upgrade until there’s problem — like a fire — or until owners decide to make improvements to their electrical system.

“Then those improvements have to meet modern code,” Ford said.

Jenny Trucano has lived in the Fosbee for about a year. She and her family sat outside in their car Wednesday night, waiting to find out if they would be allowed back into their apartment.

“You know it’s a little more sketchy building maybe, I’d say. After the Gastineau one, (I’m) a little more nervous I guess; with older buildings, too,” she said.

Gastineau apartments in downtown Juneau burned in November, displacing about 50 residents. But Fire Marshal Jager said improvements had been made in the old building in recent years and the fire department had regularly inspected it.

He said the fire department has no legal authority to inspect beyond common areas of an apartment building, and the front entrance and hallways are as far as he’s been in Fosbee apartments.

“It’s what people are doing within the wall spaces in their own apartments and we have no clue how many appliances and what type are being plugged in,” he said. “It makes it really difficult because until we have an incident that calls us there, then we have no legal authority to say we’re going to do an inspection.”

The city building department and fire marshal will have to approve whatever changes are made to the Fosbee apartment’s electrical system after this latest fire.

Nearly all the residents were allowed into their apartments after 9 p.m. Wednesday, but CBJ Building Department’s Ford says two apartments are currently not livable.