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Victims of fatal Royal Suite Lodge fire thought it was ‘another’ false alarm

By Shannon Ballard Photojournalist: John Thain - 7:05 PM February 15, 2017
ANCHORAGE –

The American Red Cross of Alaska says it’s helping 50 people displaced by the fatal Royal Suite Lodge fire. Many of the victims will stay the night at the Spenard Community Recreation Center, where the nonprofit has set up a temporary shelter.

Volunteers with the Red Cross have been working since around 3 a.m. to provide the victims with food, shelter and support. Many people at the shelter say they are still processing what happened.

When the fire alarm first went off, some residents said they didn’t think anything of it.

“Initially we thought, ‘here we go again,’ because in the last week there’s been like seven false alarms,” explained Bob Miller, one of those without a home because of the fire. “People argue and then they’d go pull the fire alarm.”

It wasn’t until Miller says he heard the screams that he realized he and his wife Lisa needed to get out.

“I opened up the front, saw flames and just told my wife, ‘get your shoes on, we’re running,'” he said.

The Millers spent Wednesday at the emergency shelter set up by the Red Cross.

Volunteers are working tirelessly to provide comfort, but horrific images of the fire are burned in the victims memory.

“It was just scary, watching people jump out the window, even elders were jumping out, so I was freaked out,” 16-year-old Quinten Johnson said.

Brieanna Brooks says what’s helping her most is simply talking about the experience. She says she saw multiple people trying to find a way out of the building, and some of them jumped from the third floor.

“I could barely see her through the smoke,” she said of one victim, adding that the woman will be “burned” in her mind. “She was literally half hanging out the window, screaming at the top her voice, ‘Save me! Help me! Help me!’ You knew in seconds she was going to have to make that decision: Do I die of smoke inhalation or burn to death, or do I jump?”

The hard part for survivors now is knowing others weren’t as lucky. Two people have been confirmed dead as a result of the fire, including 38-year-old Teuaililo G. Nua, who worked at the Cordova Center halfway house.

“Today’s going to be rough, tomorrow is going to be rough, but I’m still alive,” said

These victims — men, women and children — no longer have a home to return to, but they do have each other and they say that’s enough for now.

Donations to the Red Cross and Salvation Army Alaska, which is helping feed the victims, can be made online or by calling the organizations:

The Salvation Army says those who wish to donate clothing items can drop them off at its Anchorage thrift stores, which are located at 501 E. Dimond Blvd and 300 W. Northern Lights Blvd. Vouchers will be provided to the victims so they can select clothes for their families at the stores at no cost to them, according to a spokesman.

KTVA 11’s Shannon Ballard can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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