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Episode 46: A new chapter for Justin and Jaimee High

By KTVA Alaska 10:41 AM March 14, 2016

Highlights from this week’s program:

· One mushing family’s incredible journey of recovery after last summer’s devastating Sockeye wildfire.

· It’s not only the flames you should fear in a wildfire. Two fire safety experts look ahead to this year’s fire season, which is already off to an early start.

· Heather Hintze takes us to the multi-lingual world of Greenland and the Arctic Winter Games.

You might say Justin and Jaimee High’s remarkable story is what happens when average people find themselves caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

To lose your home twice to fire in six months — and then to rebuild, not once, but twice in nine months — is nothing short of extraordinary.

But Justin and Jaimee are far from average.

They both came to Alaska with Iditarod dreams — Justin from Michigan, and Jaimee from Idaho. They met and fell in love, while handling dogs for DeeDee Jonrowe, then later became her neighbors.

When an electrical fire in the shop burned their first house to the ground in December 2014, they found themselves with no insurance. With help from family and friends, they raised money to buy the materials — and lived in a Conex, a metal shipping container, while rebuilding.

In the summer of 2015, Justin’s family came up from Michigan to help finish the house. On June 14, just as they finished raising the roof, an ominous dark cloud of smoke appeared in the distance.

Before the day was done, they would be forced to evacuate their dog teams, carrying with them what few possessions they could throw in their truck. Their dogs — and their neighbors’ dogs — were the priority.

They would not sleep that night, as they waited for news about whether or not their home survived the Sockeye wildfire, which destroyed more than 50 homes and blackened twelve square miles.

Just days before the wildfire, the Highs had learned they would soon be parents.

We met the couple when they — and their dog team — were taking shelter at Martin Buser’s homestead. The Iditarod champion made his place available to other mushers like DeeDee Jonrowe, who were burned out as well.

The Highs appeared calm and collected the first time we interviewed them, just two days after the Sockeye fire had destroyed their home and most of their property.

Justin had attempted to get an insurance policy a few days before the fire, but wasn’t sure it had taken affect yet. His voice and his manner made it seem like he was coping. But you could see in his eyes, a bewildered look, as if he hadn’t figured out his next move. He realized that after tapping friends and family for the first rebuilding project, this well of support would likely run dry for the second one.

The Highs were people who came to Alaska looking for a frontier, but the frontier found them in a cruel and unexpected way.

Most people faced with the challenge of recovering from two back-to-back fires might have given up and moved on. But the Highs, with help from volunteers, cleared the rubble and started over a second time. One foot in front of the other. One day at a time.

We’ve followed the Highs for the past nine months, from the news they were expecting a baby, to their infant’s daughter’s homecoming, to her very first mushing adventure.

Justin, we learned, has a dry sense of humor. With a quiet grin, he told us that their daughter, Isadore Rose, or Izzy, was conceived in a Conex. Now, how Alaskan is that?

This week on Frontiers, we bring you only one family’s amazing journey of recovery.

Many other families are still struggling to rebuild after last summer’s wildfires. Many did not have insurance, because it’s not affordable in communities like Willow, where homes are dependent on volunteer fire stations, which are not in close proximity.

We also spend time on this program looking ahead to the next fire season, which is already underway. Several brush fires have already broken out in the Willow area. The potential for another Sockeye, or the Kenai Peninsula Card Street fire, is just as great as ever.

Our guests this week are Bill Gamble, head of the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s Emergency Services division, and Doug Albrecht, a state fire prevention manager at the Alaska Division of Forestry.

Both men have long experience fighting fires that go back to Miller’s Reach, 20 years ago, which was much larger and more costly that last summer’s Sockeye disaster. They share some real-life observations about what protects some homes and makes others more vulnerable.

Also on this week’s program, KTVA’s Heather Hintze, takes us to the other side of the globe, for a parting look at the Arctic Winter Games in Greenland. This story is worth seeing, simply for the beautiful parka that Heather wears. But what you will enjoy most is seeing and hearing how Greenland is alive with many different languages – and how Alaska Native languages complemented this bouquet of sounds.

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