Mom of 5 was 'running quick errand' when tragedy struck
The mother of the five young girls killed in the trailer fire Thursday was running a quick errand before their home burned to the ground, their uncle said Friday.
Armando Astorga landed in Anchorage from California one day after the tragedy, and as soon as he arrived at the airport, he immediately hugged his brother, Jimmy Flores. Flores is the girls' father.
Astorga said Flores and his wife, Janelle Quakenbush, finally caught a break this week before tragedy struck and the couple lost all five daughters in a fire at their home.
Jaelynn was 3-years-old, Sophia was 6-years-old, Lillyanna was 7-years-old, Nevaeh was 8-years-old and Alexis was 12-years-old. Astorga said Flores was on his third day of his new job for the Mat-Su Borough School District after being unemployed for months. Flores was training to be a bus driver when he got a terrible call. He said the girls' mother had left their 12-year-old daughter in charge while she went to drop off their grandmother at her home so she could borrow her car. By the time she arrived home, the trailer was engulfed in flames.
Astorga said the family is devastated. He says they are using the money raised from an online fundraiser to fly the girls' bodies back to California, where the family is originally from.
Officials still haven't confirmed the identities of the children or the adults.
Alaska State Troopers says it received word of the fire on Wickham Drive just before 7 a.m. Thursday. Two of the children were initially unaccounted for, but officials confirmed the remains of all five children were recovered.
Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said nothing further was available on whether the fire is initially considered suspicious.
"With trailer fires in general, they burn very hot and very fast," Peters said to reporters Thursday. "It doesn't give a lot of time for people to move around. Certainly, smoke inhalation is always a concern, too, with fires."
Peters called the fire's effect on the close-knit Butte community "devastating."
"It's devastating -- it's devastating on the whole community, the neighbors, law enforcement, people that respond to it, the firefighters that respond to it," Peters said. "Any death is bad enough, but then you have five and they're small children -- it really is going to be impacting the community for a while."
Officials have not confirmed the cause of the fire.
Community responds to tragedy
After hearing the news of the fire, Tammie Kerby said she and her colleagues immediately wanted to help.
"I know the first thing out of my boss' mouth was, 'Let's do a spaghetti feed, let's do what we can to help these guys, let's raise some money for them,'" Kerby, the manager of Klondike Mike's in Palmer, said.
Kerby said their restaurant joined others in preparing food for first responders.
"We made up a bunch of French fries and we sent out like 10 orders of French fries to help feed them," she said. "They came by and picked them up."
Bodenburg Butte Baptist Church pastor Bill Lightner and his wife, Marcia, said their doors are open to anyone needing help in the community due to this fire.
"The first thought that I had was, 'What can we do?'" Bill said.
They didn't know the family affected by this fire but said a church is meant to help bring people together to "offer comfort and shelter."
"We'd like to extend ourselves out to offer anything we can to be there for them," Marcia said.
Kerby said she will be contacting businesses over the next several days to help organize some form of outreach and support and hopes to have that finished by next weekend.
A spokesperson for the Mat-Su Borough School District said response teams and grief counselors were sent to sites in the area affected by the fire. She declined to name the sites, pending identification of the victims from officials. Red Cross officials said they were helping two adults displaced by the fire with immediate financial assistance and have extended mental and spiritual services, as well.