Families return to Funny River

Photo by Dan Balmer/Peninsula Clarion Leticia and Joe Thiede look at a recent map of the wildfire that forced them to evacuate their home on Funny River Road Sunday. Leticia, who is eight months pregnant with their first child, said the ordeal has been stressful. The family stayed the past two nights at an RV Park until the evacuation was lifted Tuesday.

After her third night of sleeping in a motor home at the King Salmon RV Park in Soldotna, Leticia Thiede woke Tuesday morning to the sound of rain hitting the roof; music to her ears after everything she has experienced since the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire threatened her community.


Along with her husband, Joe Thiede, mother, Mary Lee, and their two dogs, the family packed into an RV a friend lent to them Saturday after they evacuated their home on Funny River Road.

Leticia Thiede, who is eight months pregnant with her first child, said she has been on doctor’s orders to avoid stressful situations. Despite the evacuation, she said friends and family have been very supportive and she has been impressed with how the community banded together to help people.

“It has been a stressful week,” she said. “We are not the only people dealing with this.”

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, fire officials lifted the evacuation order for Funny River Road. Leticia Thiede, who had her final doctor’s checkup Tuesday before her due date on June 4, said she would wait to see if it is worth the stress to go back home while the evacuation advisory is still in effect.

Leticia Thiede and Lee were two of more than 50 who attended an evacuation information meeting Monday at Redoubt Elementary School. The American Red Cross of Alaska set up a temporary shelter at the school for displaced residents. Sue Thornton, a shelter manager, said nine people spent the night at the shelter, which provided food and water.

A second shelter in the Sterling Elementary School was set up for residents from the Kenai Keys and Feuding area, who were under an evacuation advisory. The advisory for the Sterling neighborhood was lifted on Tuesday.

Funny River Road resident Joe Ward said the volunteers with the Red Cross have done a wonderful job. Ward, who attended the evacuation meeting at Redoubt, said he stayed in a camper across the Kenai River in Sterling. Ward helped his parents, who live on River Bend Drive off of Funny River Road, evacuate. They spent Monday night in a hotel.

He said his primary concern is that his family is safe. He thanked the firefighters who are in the front lines of fire.

“Its impressive to see them lined up ready to risk life and climb to protect us,” Ward said. “We are thinking about those (firefighters) too. We know they are working hard and are tired.”

Funny River Road resident Amy Utecht, a teacher at Redoubt Elementary School, said she was relieved when she received the call Tuesday morning that the evacuation order had been lifted.

On May 21, two days after the wildfire started, she was preoccupied with transitioning from teaching third grade to fifth grade, which required her to move into a new classroom, when her husband called to tell her about the evacuation advisory.

Utecht said she stayed at a friend’s house Monday night. While she never imagined her workplace would be transformed into a shelter one week after school got out, she said the support from the community and school district has been amazing.

“It is amazing to see everyone helping each other,” she said. “I am praying for more rain.”


Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com

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