A Kasilof couple active in local and state politics lost their home to a fire Wednesday.
Local emergency responders spent the early morning hours fighting the fire and salvaging belongings from the home of Jack and Debbie Brown. Both have served in a variety of elected and appointed positions. Jack Brown served on the borough assembly, and Debbie Brown served on the assembly and school board. She ran unsuccessfully for borough mayor in 2011 and recently was selected to be vice chair of the Alaska Republican Party.
“We’re long-time Alaskans … We’ll make it through this,” said Debbie Brown. “We appreciate everyone’s prayers. It’s easy to get discouraged. Our sprits are lumpy right now, as the fishermen say.”
No one was injured as a result of the fire, according to a Central Emergency Services press release.
At 12:50 a.m., CES responded to Tideland Street in Kasilof for a residential fire. The first unit arrived in 10 minutes and observed a two-story residence engulfed in flames, according to the press release.
The fire burned for two to three hours before responders arrived, said CES safety officer Brad Nelson. Preliminary investigation points to a smoldering towel as the source of ignition.
Debbie Brown told responders she warmed up a towel in a microwave, and it began to smolder. She placed the towel on the deck to cool off. At some point, the deck caught on fire. CES determined the fire started outside on the porch but reported the cause as unknown and still under investigation.
The Browns fled their home after waking up during the fire. When Debbie Brown awoke, she saw a glow coming from the porch; she thought the porch light was on and went downstairs to investigate, she said.
“Flames were moving rapidly up the side of our home, and I didn’t know where they were coming from,” Brown said.
She said she felt inclined to salvage belongings inside the home, but her husband cautioned against further danger. Instead, the couple grabbed their winter jackets and boots, and they watched as responders fought the blaze.
The fight lasted about four hours. Due to the extent of fire activity before responders arrived, fire fighters were behind the curve, and the house was a total loss, according to the press release.
The home was beautiful, Nelson lamented, with tongue and groove construction. This made the fire tough to fight as the flames entered the attic and other void spaces.
The home is valued at $291,800, and the estimated value of personal property lost totaled $100,000. Crews stayed on scene for another four hours salvaging the Browns’ belongings, according to the press release.
In addition to pictures and physical mementos, the home had Alaska history, Brown said. Swedish fishermen used the home’s original structure to build skiffs. Later, they added on to the home, and the Browns did the same.
The American Red Cross is assisting the Browns with temporary housing. A small cabin on the Browns’ property will provide shelter after two days. The cabin, a one-room structure, lacks electricity and running water. It’s meant for summer use, but with some improved insulation the cabin should get the couple through winter, Brown said.
“It’s a roof over our heads and we’ll be warm, and that’s what’s important,” she said.
She said she hopes Homer Electric Association can hook up electricity, and minor improvements to the cabin are easy and quick.
The Browns could also use help removing the debris of their former home. Next summer, they’ll start rebuilding — something smaller, she said.
“It’s a heartbreak. But like my husband’s father used to say, ‘This is no hill for real climbers,” she said.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.