Family looks to future after losing ‘everything’ in blaze

After the fire
Jess and Sam Clucas sit Tuesday with their children Jesse, Christopher, Kaytlen and Alice at Hooligan’s Lodge in Soldotna. The Ninilchik family has been staying in hotel rooms and with family since a fire destroyed their home Jan. 9.

The Clucas family dispersed themselves throughout room 207 at Hooligan's Sports Fishing Lodge in Soldotna. It was early Monday morning, and Christopher, 14, and Kaytlen, 13, stared into large, boxy laptops busying themselves with home-school assignments.

Hooligan's was the third temporary living space the Clucas family has occupied since their Clam Gulch home was destroyed by a fire on the evening of Jan. 9.

Kenai Peninsula residents were quick to help the family in need, but the parents of four lost everything in the fire and are unsure what the future holds.

"It's still kind of a shock to me," said Sammie Clucas. "I just keep thinking of everything we lost. I'm just thankful we all made it out OK."

Around 8 p.m. on Jan. 9, Sammie, 32, noticed smoke pouring down the hall of her mobile home. She said she thought it was the oven, which was preheating. Her husband Jess Clucas, 35, went to check it out. It was much worse than expected.

In an expansion of the home containing its water well, Jess had installed a wood coal furnace. A wire attached to the water well's pump overloaded, causing sparks to start a fire.

Jess yelled from the opposite end of the trailer for Sammie and the children to get outside and to call 911. Sammie said there was an audible difference in Jess' usual calm tone.

"Jess is a very level person," she said. "He doesn't get excited very often, so when that panicked sound came into his voice I grabbed the girls and ran outta there."

Resting off of Mile 125 of the Sterling Highway, the home was a bit secluded -- the nearest fire station was in Ninilchik.

It took about 20 minutes for a fire engine capable of fighting the flames to arrive. The Clucas' home was nearly destroyed, as trailers don't have the best fire-resistant qualities.

"The fire had totally consumed the trailer, and it was falling down by the time the fire department got there," Sammie said.

"A few minutes seemed liked hours," Jess said. The fire resulted in a total loss. Jess estimated the family's valuables at about $50,000. Unfortunately, the family doesn't have fire insurance.

Memories and valuables were reduced to ashes. Sammie said her laptop with many photos was in the home. Antiques from her great grandmother, such as cookbooks, a soup tureen and a cookie jar, were also lost in the fire.

"Things I collected as a child, pictures, electronics," she said. "I had a copyrighted 'Winnie the Pooh' book from 1918."

Bud and Star, the family's two dogs, were killed in the fire.

Jess installed French doors on the trailer two years ago. His brother was once a volunteer fire fighter in Ninilchik. After riding along to a handful of structure fires, Jess realized just how fast flames spread.

He said he didn't want his family stuck on one side of the trailer in case of a fire. His concerns were warranted.

The family spent a couple nights with relatives before landing at the Aspen Extended Stay Suites in Kenai. The American Red Cross paid for three nights at Aspen and Nikiski First Baptist Church paid for three more days.

The owner of Hooligan's then offered the Clucas family a room for six days.

Sammie said the community has been exceptionally helpful.

"It's really surprising," she said. "(J-B Stor N' Lok) donated a storage unit, different businesses have given gift cards, and Mike Navarre let us eat at Arby's the whole time we stayed at the Aspen."

Caribou Family Restaurant in Soldotna is hosting a spaghetti feed fundraiser for the family on Monday at 6: 30 p.m. Adult dinners are $15 and kids under 10 eat for $7.

Besides having insurance, Sammie, a homemaker, and Jess, a commercial fisherman during the summer, advise people to make an emergency plan.

It's important to formulate a summer plan as well as a winter plan, Sammie said.

And important paperwork belongs in a safe, she added.

"We had one little fire-proof safe that I'd just put the kids birth certificates in," she said. "Now that's one of the only things left."

The plan -- for now -- is to stay at an aunt's campground near the Ninilchik area. She provided a cabin until spring when she will need to rent them out.

"After that I'm not certain where will end up living," Jess said.

Sammie's mother has set up a Well's Fargo bank account for anyone interested in donating money. The account number is 7861883176.

People wanting to check up on the family or offer personal wishes can visit the Clucas Family Community Outreach page on Facebook. Nearly two hundred people are communicating through the page. It's updated regularly.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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