Homer Eagle Lady safe after fire

Keene back feeding eagles after cabin was damaged Tuesday

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2008

From her office upstairs at Alaska Ferry Adventures at the end of the Homer Spit, Sandy Rollins has a clear view of the cabin of Jean Keene, Homer's Eagle Lady.

Late Tuesday afternoon at about 5:15 p.m., Rollins and her co-workers saw what at first looked like a big burn fire outside Keene's 34-foot mobile home. As the flames licked higher, Rollins decided it was more than a trash fire that the internationally famous Homer icon's home might be on fire. She dialed 911.

"That's why we called it in," Rollins said.

Keene didn't even know her cabin was on fire until the Homer Police called to check on her. Keene said she heard her smoke alarm go off, but at first thought the battery was broken.

"I didn't smell anything," Keene said from her booth at the Land's End Resort bar Wednesday morning. "That's when the police said, 'You're house is on fire. Get out now.'"

Keene, known for her decades of feeding eagles on the Homer Spit, escaped the fire unharmed.

A fire that started outside scorched the front of her small trailer. Homer Harbor Officer Chris Dabney and Keene's friends Patrick O'Neill and Hans Koch helped Keene climb over the wall of the compound where she feeds eagles every morning in the winter. HVFD firefighters responded with tankers and crews within 15 minutes and kept the fire from spreading.

Keene thanked the staff at Alaska Ferry Adventures for calling in the fire.

"If it hadn't been for them, I would have been totally consumed," she said.

Wednesday morning, Keene fed eagles at her compound, and at least 100 mature and immature eagles perched on pilings, poles even the roof of her cabin around the Homer Spit Campground.

"She's not going to mess with her routine no matter what," her friend Cindy Koch said. "She's just a spunky little thing."

Friends came over to help her clean up, hauling out scorched trash cans, a Styrofoam tote and other debris. Keene had to throw out fish damaged when melted plastic contaminated it.

Cindy and Hans Koch, of Vashon Island, Wash., donated the 400-square-foot mobile home to Keene in 2004. They were staying at their Land's End Lodgings condominium just up the Spit beach from Keene when they saw the fire.

O'Neill had come down to Homer from Soldotna to take the Kochs king salmon fishing. He noticed the fire burning at Keene's cabin and, like Rollins, at first thought it was a burn fire and then realized it was bigger than that.

"I said, 'Holy smokes,' there's a fire," O'Neill said.

With her cabin damaged by smoke and power and propane turned off, Keene spent Tuesday night at Land's End Resort. The resort offered her food and lodging as soon as they heard of the fire.

"We'll put her up as long as she needs it," said Land's End Resort general manager Dawn Schneider. "Hopefully, she'll stay over here and recoup."

Cindy Koch said it was lucky she and her husband were in town this week to help out Keene. Wednesday, Koch was calling an insurance agent and making other arrangements to assess and repair the damage. Koch said she's working to get Keene back to normal as quickly as she can.

The fire mostly damaged a front bedroom Keene uses for storage. Firefighters had to break windows in the front room and cut into the floor and crawlspace to put out the fire and make sure it hadn't spread. Keene said most of the damage was from smoke. She has clean clothes and doesn't need anything except more fish to feed eagles, she said.

Keene, a former rodeo trick rider, once broke her leg and was in a cast for 15 months. She's survived breast cancer and when she broke her leg again, fed eagles while on crutches. But this is her first house fire.

"That's one thing I've always been afraid of is fire," Keene said.

"I didn't need this to happen," she added. "It could have been worse. A lot of people have had worse things happen. There's no point weeping over stuff that's under the bridge."

"She got out," Cindy Koch said. "That's everything."

Firefighters have not determined the cause of the fire. Keene said she thought the fire might have started from electrical cords strung outside her cabin. She had been thawing frozen fish with a heat lamp.

Keene thanked the harbor officers, police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who helped.

"Give a big hug to the police, the firemen, the gals with the ambulance," she said. "They were all great."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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