Dillingham, AK – Arson fire at grocery market knocked down by sprinkler system

An automatic sprinkler system kept early morning fires set inside the N&N Market down, but not out, and the Dillingham Volunteer Fire Department was called to the scene before 8:00 a.m.

“When we made entry, the building was full of smoke, pretty heavy smoke,” said Assistant Fire Chief Malcolm Wright. “There were fires in several different places, and they’d been knocked down by the sprinkler system. The sprinklers did their job, but there was still a lot of smoke, and [we] had to overhaul the materials that had burned.”

Wright said there appeared to be two spots fires were started in the store. One was back in the clothing section near the footwear, and another was where bulk paper towels are sold on an aisle end cap, next to the produce section and the freezers. Those were areas firefighters focused on pulling apart materials to stamp out the fire.

Wright, a veteran firefighter, had no doubt the fires had been set intentionally. “Yeah, there is no way I could waffle on that. But I want to leave it to police to say more when they’re ready,” he said.

As to the extent of the damage, Wright said it was “pretty heavy” inside, but credited the sprinklers with preventing the fire from spreading further. “There was a bunch of stuff [damaged] on the shelves, some shelving, some lights, but probably much more water damage I would think. Took us a while to get the sprinklers turned back off,” he said.

Two Dillingham police officers were inside collecting evidence immediately after the firefighters cleared the building. Chief Dan Pasquariello could not be reached for comment Sunday morning.

A witness at the scene, who asked not to be named, told police that noises were heard and the power was out at N&N around 3:30 a.m., and not long after a vehicle sped quickly from behind the store and drove a ways down the road before turning its lights on. Other store employees at the scene said the perpetrator or perpetrators had broken a window in the rear of the building to gain entrance.

No injuries were reported. The N&N Market was closed for business Sunday.

There are city cameras around the port entrance, and in the past N&N Market has operated cameras in the store which have helped lead to the arrest of other burglars. So far Dillingham Police have not said what evidence was collected, what if anything was stolen, or if they are looking for any suspects.

The volunteer crash rescue squad also responded to a vehicle accident north on Lake Road earlier in the morning, and the fire department was pulled away from the scene of the N&N fire after a report of a fire in HUD housing was called in. That turned out to be a false alarm; smoke from fireworks shot into the woodline to scare off a bear had been mistaken for a fire.

Update, 12:45 p.m.: Dillingham Police Chief Dan Pasquariello issued a press release, confirming an arson and burglary investigation is underway, though no suspects have been named. “Investigation revealed that person(s) had broken into the building, stole numerous items from the store, and deliberately set the store on fire,” he wrote.

Pasquariello said the ATM had been targeted, but did not want to comment on other items stolen. He did not say how many people had been involved, or if the Department has suspects in mind. The chief said the police are in the early stages of their investigation, and has asked anyone with information regarding burglary and arson at N&N early Sunday morning to contact DPD at 842-5354.

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