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State Fire Marshal investigating cause of fatal house fire near Ester

Ester VFD/Facebook
An Ester Volunteer Fire Department engine rolls on a call last month. The department was one of five Fairbanks-area agencies that responded to Saturday's fatal fire at a home off the Old Nenana Highway.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the cause of a fire that badly damaged a home near Ester over the weekend. And the state Medical Examiner’s office will conduct an autopsy on a victim firefighters found inside the house.

First-responders from five Fairbanks-area fire departments found the house on the Old Nenana Highway was already burning when then got there a little after 8:30 Saturday night.

The crews extinguished the fire, but the home was “significantly damaged,” according to a report from the Alaska Division of Fire and Life Safety. The report, issued Monday, says an initial investigation suggests the fire began near a woodstove in the living room.

“Our crews noted that most of the heaviest damage was near the woodstove," says Keith Berrian, deputy chief of Chena Goldstream Fire and Rescue, one of five Fairbanks-area agencies that responded to the call.

Berrian says firefighters found the body of a woman in the house, later identified as 71-year-old Amy Pohl. They removed the victim and tried to revive her, but were unsuccessful. He says the loss of life requires the state Fire Marshal’s Office to investigate. But no foul play is suspected.

“Because it’s a fatality, there’ll be a much more thorough investigation done on it,” he said.

The report says the body will be sent to the state Medical Examiner’s office for an autopsy.

Berrian said the fire serves as another reminder to homeowners to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in homes, and to change their batteries at least once a year.

Other agencies that responded to the fire included Ester Volunteer Fire Department, University Fire Department, Fort Wainwright Fire Department and Fairbanks Fire Department.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.