‘There was nothing but flame’: McKinley Fire evacuees face loss, uncertainty
The Eggerman family had just two or three minutes to grab a change of clothes and some food before piling into a mini van and taking off from a camper and the home they were renovating near Mile 86 of the Parks Highway Sunday.
The home started to burn in the rearview mirror as they drove away.
“My daughter and I both cried,” said Dorothy Eggerman, “So we just kept going, kept going, we stopped again we looked back, there was nothing but flame.”
Her voice cracked Monday as she sat next to two of her grandchildren and recounted the family’s narrow escape.
“We lost everything, everything,” Eggerman said. “We got nothing. [My daughter’s] house she was building and my camper, all gone. Everything all gone.”
The family of eight joins dozens of other Alaskans who are staying at a shelter set up by the American Red Cross of Alaska at the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla.
Several evacuees left their homes Saturday too, then went back, thinking the danger was over. Sunday, the wind-fueled fire raged on, forcing them to leave a second time.
The shelter is offering displaced Alaskans a warm, safe place to sleep, food and water. Volunteers are ready to help connect people with resources once they learn the extent of the damage.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Animal Shelter is providing supplies for pets, roughly 20 dogs and a handful of cats.
Recreational musher Renee Shinton is living in the parking lot for now with her mother and 11 sled dogs. They left their Caswell Lakes home just before fire and smoke blocked off the one road in and out of the subdivision.
“I just grabbed the dogs and any supplies I could for them and us and got out just in time,” she said. “There was fire on both sides of the Parks once we turned onto Parks off of Hidden Hill.”
She said if it weren’t for her neighbor, Brant Leach, they wouldn’t have made it out in time. Leach left his own home as the fire got closer to help Shinton get the dogs out.
Leach said he saw homes belonging to his friends burning as he drove away. A couple of his neighbors didn’t leave, he said.
“When we were coming outta there for the last time I thought for sure we were getting trapped,” Leach said.
Shinton remembers feeling the fire’s warmth as smoke filled the truck and her dog’s kennels.
“It was dark,” she said. “You could feel the heat coming off of it.”
Her home and personal property might be lost, but Shinton is thankful that she, her mother and the dogs escaped with their lives.
Evacuees who don’t know how their homes fared are living with gnawing uncertainty.
“That’s the $50,000 question right there. If I have a house, I go back home, and if I don’t, I build a structure as fast as I can before winter,” Shinton said.
Those who already know are catching their breath and trying to wrap their minds around what the future might hold.
“We gotta try to start from nothing,” Eggerman said.
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