Owner escapes, cat missing as fire destroys Chugiak home

Friday, September 8, 2017 - 13:05
  • The charred remains of a Chugiak home destroyed by fire the morning of Sept. 5, 2017. No people were injured in the fire. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • The charred remains of a Chugiak home destroyed by fire the morning of Sept. 5, 2017. No people were injured in the fire. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

An early morning fire destroyed a Chugiak home and displaced a longtime local resident Tuesday, Sept. 5, according to neighbors and the Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department.

The call came in around 4:30 a.m., when some Tulwar Drive residents reported seeing flames climbing the walls of a two-story home in the woods.

“My wife hollered at me that there was a fire,” said Steve Sandberg, who lives across the street from the blaze.

While his wife called 911, Sandberg said he answered a knock at his door – his neighbor had escaped her burning home and fled to his, Sandberg said. While she was unharmed by the flames, the woman’s cat was nowhere to be found, Sandberg said. There was nobody else in the house at the time of the fire, firefighters said.

According to property records, the home belongs to longtime Chugiak resident Mary Turner. Turner works as the registrar at Chugiak High and is an assistant coach for the school’s flag football team.

A GoFundMe.com fundraiser was set up Tuesday in Turner’s name. According to the post on the crowdfunding site, Turner raised her family in the burned home and lost her cat in the blaze. Anyone wishing to help can also drop off items for Turner at Chugiak High, according to the GoFundMe, which had generated more than $1,500 in its first two hours after being posted Tuesday afternoon.

According to the post, Turner is staying with family but is in need of some help.

“Let’s attempt to repay this wonderful woman with the unwavering kindness she has always shown so many!” reads the post.

By the time CVFRD crews arrived on scene Tuesday morning, the front of Turner’s home was engulfed in flames.

“We did everything we could in a defensive manner,” said CVFRD Chief Tim Benningfield.

But there’s hydrants that far up the hillside, he said. To fight the flames, four tanker trucks collected water from a hydrant near the Glenn Highway, carrying it to a portable water tank set up near the bottom of Tulwar Drive, where another truck pumped it through an 800-foot-long hose reaching up to the burning home.

“As you can imagine, it takes some time to get that put into place,” Benningfield said.

A damaged gas line caused further delays, making it impossible to turn off the home’s gas supply at the meter, according to the CVFRD chief. Firefighters had to wait while utility crews dug into the driveway and turned the gas off further down the line, Benningfield said.

It took nearly two and a half hours to bring the fire under control, according to CVFRD. Heavy rain began to fall a few hours later. Minor hotspots continued to smoke sporadically throughout the morning, and a hose remained coiled across the driveway hours after the fire engine left.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, Benningfield said.

From his house across the street, Sandberg said he saw the flames licking up from the base of his neighbor’s home, reaching higher and higher until there was almost nothing left.

“Sparks were shooting way up there,” Sandberg said, gesturing toward the rafters. “I was surprised none of the trees caught fire.”

Contact Star reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

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