Community bands together for evacuees

Many local businesses, churches, organizations and citizens spent their Memorial Days helping evacuees of the Funny River Road wildfire.


The American Red Cross of Alaska set up a temporary shelter at Redoubt Elementary School in Soldotna for residents, who were evacuated from the Funny River area Sunday afternoon.

A second temporary shelter opened Monday morning at Sterling Elementary School in Sterling.

About 1,000 structures are in the evacuated area, however, not all of those are full-time residences. Brenda Ahlberg, community and fiscal projects manager with the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said 310 people checked in at the marshaling station at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Evacuees will be updated by 9 a.m. Tuesday about the possibility of returning home.

The Soldotna shelter is primarily for Funny River Road area evacuees while the Sterling shelter is serving as a secondary location.

The Soldotna shelter housed two evacuees Sunday night, and expected a few more Monday night. The Soldotna local has 75 cots set up with pillows and blankets and 100 more cots available on site. The Sterling location has 30 cots set up with 120 on standby.

After spending Sunday night in their tuck and tent at the sports complex, the Brassfield family made plans Monday afternoon to spend the night at the shelter.

The family of five, with three teenage kids, have a variety of pets — dogs, ferrets, rabbits and horses. Lois Brassfield said they have been staying with the animals constantly since the evacuation.

“It’s been a difficult,” she said.

The Soldotna shelter was able to get a pet shelter set up Monday afternoon for domestic animals on school grounds.

Brassfield said they worked out a plan to keep their horses at the sports complex and hope to be able to keep the rest of their pets at the shelter.

In preparing to evacuate and gathering things like medications and primary items, Brassfield said they forgot items like towels. She said they also had issues finding somewhere to shower.

But she said the fear that’s been eminent during the past week has been the most difficult to deal with. The family moved to the Funny River Road area last July from Kasilof.

“We’ve been through so much,” Brassfield said. … “We just don’t’ want to lose the house.”

The doors to the shelters will be locked at night for security reasons, but the desk will be manned through the night. A number will be posted at night outside for evacuees to call, if they come after the doors are locked.

Both shelters have snacks available for evacuees near the entrances of the schools. Sue Thornton, one of the shelter managers in Soldotna, said at about 3:30 p.m. Monday, they had served 400 snacks.

XTO Energy provided groceries to the shelters. Red Cross officials said the shelters have enough food and water and cannot accept clothing, blankets or pillows. The best option, Beth Bennett, regional communications officer, said is to visit and make a monetary donation to the local Red Cross. People interested in volunteering can also sign up online.

The Salvation Army provided meals at the Soldotna shelter.

Hooligans Lodging and Saloon along the Sterling Highway in Soldotna opened its doors to evacuees Sunday night.

Molly Poland, owner, said evacuees occupied 118 rooms Sunday night and 130 were filled for Monday night. Poland let evacuees bring their dogs and cats into the lodge including a litter of puppies.

She said the community has donated a variety of food items, clothing, toiletries and pet supplies for evacuees. If any Funny River Road resident needs anything, she said they can just come by and help themselves.

With her staff tripled to keep up with inundation of people, community members have also volunteered to help out with laundry and other duties around the lodge.

“This whole community is rad when the going gets tough,” Poland said.

For evacuees looking for a recreational vehicle spot, the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Soldotna on North Birch Street had open six spots as of 5 p.m. Monday.

The VFW annually hosts a Memorial Day picnic and invited evacuees to the meal.

“We’re here for the community,” said Shane Fender with the VFW.

Odie’s Deli in Soldotna offered free cinnamon rolls for fire workers and evacuees Monday morning. For lunch, Megan Schaafsma said the deli had free soup and bread and employees poured free coffee throughout the day for those affected by the fire.

Schaafsma isn’t sure how many evacuees and fire personnel the deli served throughout the day, but said employees made about 400 rolls.

At the Birch Ridge Community Church, on Echo Lake Road in Soldotna, a spontaneous offering of help turned into two days of meals and a kids carnival Monday evening while dinner was served.

Terri Kunz, who lives a Mile 9 in the evacuated area of Funny River Road, sat slowly finishing her meal, relishing a few moments of relaxation.

Kunz and her family evacuated their animals a few days before the call came through for them to leave.

The group’s goats and alpacas are at the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds while seven dachshunds and two larger dogs have been temporarily left with family and friends in the community — Kunz put out a plea on Facebook looking for homes for the animals and had no problems finding them, she said.

Meanwhile she, and her nieces, are staying at a home near Bridge Access Road in Kenai, waiting for word that they may be able to go home.

Amid the piles of pizzas, donated by Pizza Boys in Soldotna, and dozens of dishes dropped off by community members or made by members of the congregation, Kunz said she was overwhelmed with gratitude.

“I’m nervous,” she said. “We’ll be OK I know, but not knowing what’s going on is hard. I just have to keep believing that we are going to be OK.”

If her house does burn, Kunz said, she hopes that the fire will take out the home on the property and not the barn.

“It’s easier for me to live in my barn than it is for the goats and alpacas to live in the house,” she said, laughing.

Organizers at the church said they did not need any more donations of food and were astonished at how many community members came out to support the evacuees.

“This community is incredible,” said Kory Armstrong.

Char Moore, whose idea helped to start the meal-site, said she could not believe how many church members gave up Memorial Day weekend plans to volunteer for meal-duty.

“This is just one of those things where you realize what the important things are and you know that somebody’s got your back,” Moore said. “Our church family just wants people to know that we care about them.”

The group plans to host another lunch Tuesday at noon.

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at

Rashah McChesney can be reached at


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