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Royal Suite Lodge fire victims return home to check for salvageable belongings

By Daniella Rivera Photojournalist: Andy Nitchman - 11:07 PM March 6, 2017

For nearly three weeks, the charred Royal Suite Lodge in Spenard has been off limits to the public, including residents. Following the Feb. 15 fire that claimed the lives of three residents and displaced dozens, the Anchorage Police Department declared the property a crime scene as they conducted an arson and homicide investigation.

Saturday, Brieanna Brooks became the first person to get back into the building to see if any of her belongings were salvageable.

“It was like getting gut punched all over again,” she said. “And then when you see the damage, it really hits you hard just what all happened.”

The first thing she checked for was her purse. It’s been visible from the fence outside her window for weeks, holding her ID and Social Security card, things she needs to move on. To her surprise, her ID, cards and cash in her wallet all survived, and while the filing cabinet holding her tax records, birth certificate, and passport burned, the important documents inside were perfectly preserved.

Despite the massive amount of fire and water damage in her apartment, a few items of sentimental value didn’t burn. A mug from Buenos Aires was the only piece of ceramic that didn’t crack in the extreme heat, and her slightly burned jewelry box protected a pair of earrings given to her in Argentina.

The trip to get her belongings is the last time she plans to visit the scene of the fire. She says she’s ready to move on now.

“I will actually be a better and stronger person for it, and be a little bit brighter light on this rock we call Earth,” Brooks said.

She’s heading to Fairbanks to be with family, but says she won’t forget her neighbors, a group of people now connected by a single tragic event.

“My heart, my love, and my prayers go with every one else,” Brooks said.

Brooks can’t talk about her gratitude for people who have helped her without tearing up.

“Even though the tragedy happened here, the people of Anchorage rose to the occasion in such a magnificent way,” she said, adding that the Anchorage community will always have a special place in her heart.

Brooks is heading into the next chapter with more than a few salvaged possessions. She says going back into the building gave her closure.

As for rest of the residents, some were still collecting items Monday afternoon. Some returned from the building with a single trash bag of items, while others found a lot more that survived the fire, smoke and water damage.

Anchorage police are still investigating the fire and have not named any suspects.

KTVA 11’s Daniella Rivera can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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