Longtime Chugiak resident finds community support after fire

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 13:17
  • Chugiak assistant flag football coach Mary Turner watches the Mustangs during the team’s 51-0 homecoming victory over Eagle River on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium in Chugiak. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

When Mary Turner woke with a start early on the morning of Sept. 5, she thought the sound she heard came from an earthquake, she said.

Then she saw the flames outside her window. A window imploded. She knew she had to get out, she said.

When she escaped from her burning home a few minutes later, she had nothing but the bathrobe on her back and a broken landline phone, she said – no shoes, no glasses, no coat, no purse. She lost nearly everything she had in that fire, including the Chugiak home where she raised her three daughters.

What happened next overwhelmed her, she said.

“This community has been amazing,” said Turner, a registrar and flag football coach at Chugiak High School. “I feel taken care of.”

Within two weeks of the fire, friends, community members and former students raised more than $16,000 through a GoFundMe account established on Turner’s behalf. Chugiak High School was established as a drop-off site for donations. The Eagle River Vision Center took care of her replacement glasses, she said. Members of the local quilting community donated supplies to help her keep her craft alive, she said, and members of Chugiak’s varsity flag football team gifted her with blankets and rugs, for when she settles into a new place.

“They’ve been so good to me here at the high school,” Turner said.

She and her family have been part of the Chugiak community for decades. She moved into the house on Tulwar Drive in 1986, she said. Her three daughters all graduated from Chugiak High School, and Turner has worked at the high school for years.

While the house was destroyed by the fire, her school and her family remain.

“It’s a lot to deal with, but thankfully I have an amazing family – they circled the wagons,” Turner said a week after the fire.

Her daughter gave her a place to stay while she began putting her life back together, she said. Next, there’s a housesitting gig that could carry her through until the spring. The high school offered flexible hours so she could make appointments and take care of business, she said. She needed to contract a demolition crew, contact a builder and explore her options for rebuilding her house, she said. She hoped it could be in Chugiak, her home.

“I’m just trying to wrap my head around what my future is going to look like,” Turner said.

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

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