People who lost their homes in the McKinley Fire will get help to rebuild. The McKinley Fire Long Term Recovery Group aims to help people who didn’t have insurance.

The fire started Aug. 17 and quickly tore through the woods along the Parks Highway around mile 90. Ned Sparks evacuated knowing everything he had would likely be gone when he returned.

“Firefighters felt they had control and it took over the top, the flames over the top of the trees with the wind,” Sparks said in an interview outside the Upper Susitna Senior Center on Aug. 19. “They had to flee for their lives too. All the structures are gone.”

Sparks was one of about 50 people who lost their homes to the fast-moving flames. He said he and his wife couldn’t get insurance because their home was still under construction over the summer. They were finishing up the second floor when the fire started.

“It basically went from a vibrant home to a non-existent, some scrap sheet metal on the ground,” Sparks said.

He plans to rebuild and wants to support his neighbors as they get their lives back together. That’s why he joined the McKinley Fire Long Term Recovery Group.

The goal is to provide resources for people like Sparks who lost their primary home and didn’t have insurance to cover the costs.

“We want to get those people something back to where they were. Maybe in some cases it will be a little better,” said Joe-d DowlingSoka, the group’s chair. “We’re going to build to code. They have to contribute something and that will be a per case basis.”

DowlingSoka is also a pastor at the Willow United Methodist Church. He said the group is made up of partner agencies like the American Red Cross, United Way, churches and other community organizations.

The group is applying for grants to fund part of the project. Some people also have state emergency assistance that will be used. They want to have everyone back in a home by the end of summer next year.

“Every individual in the area has their own needs and own particular circumstances,” DowlingSoka said.

Volunteers like Teri Petram know there are a lot of logistics to navigate after a disaster; her family lost a home to a fire several years ago.

“I also know the confusion that happens for a period of time afterwards and how difficult it is to make decisions once you experience something like that,” she said.

The group wants to help people understand their options.

“We take all of those resources we have available and provide them to survivors in the area in a concise format that’s easy to digest,” Petram said.

Sparks encourages people in his community to ask questions about the efforts and ask for help.

“They’re still proud. They don’t want to ask,” he said. “And they need to.”

He wants his neighbors to know that, while they may be starting over from scratch, they’re not alone.

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