Asset to ash family loses home

Posted: Friday, April 09, 2004

The McCurdy family used to live in a two-story log home with a basement. For nearly a month now, the family of four has been living in a shack behind the charred pit where their house used to be.

The McCurdys got a cell phone call while they were out for a Friday-night family dinner March 12 telling them the Kasilof home they'd lived in for 20 years had burned to the ground.

"The trooper said don't hurry home, your house is gone," said Rita McCurdy, who recounted the story.

The family hurried home anyway to find a smoldering pit of ash, melted plastic and deformed metal. Only some log columns, still on fire, were standing.

"There was nothing, absolutely nothing. The only thing I saw was the pillars to our porch and they were lit up like candles."

The fire was started by a short in the wiring running through the log walls and spread quickly through the wood structure.

"It just went, it was such a hot fire. We were told if we were in the house we would have never made it out."

The fire was hot enough to destroy the family's belongings outside of a few documents kept in a fire-proof safe. The only objects Rita McCurdy recognized after sifting through the ashes were the cowboy hat-shaped lid to her cowboy cookie jar and the nearly unidentifiable, melted glob that used to be her coin collection.

"You can't even see what they are. They're just a big mush," she said.

McCurdy also lost a 100-year-old phonograph she'd inherited more than 20 years ago. But the biggest loss, outside of the house itself, was the family photo album. She can replace some of the baby pictures of her teenage daughters Priscilla and Madalyn with copies sent to relatives, but one-of-a-kind, old black and whites of great-great-grandparents, aunts and uncles are gone for good.

"I lost pictures that I could never, ever replace," she said.

The McCurdys home school their daughters. The building they've been living in for the past few weeks used to serve as their school house. The 16- by16-foot building has no running water, however, and was never intended to be lived in full time.

The cramped quarters are inconvenient but manageable. It's the lack of running water and indoor plumbing that's the challenge.

The family has access to water for drinking and cooking from the same outdoor spigot used to water their horses, chickens and other farm animals. However, they rely on relatives for showers and their restroom is an outhouse.

"You don't realize how important the basics are. Running water is so important. You can clean up. You can have a toilet," McCurdy said.

Despite a lack of running water, the McCurdys are managing, thanks to friends, family and a number of relief organizations such as the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary, Kenai Pen-insula Food Bank and Love INC of Kenai. The groups have donated clothes and shoes, canned goods and food vouchers, a refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven, camping stove, coffee pot and even a television.

"There are a lot of angels in this community," McCurdy said.

The family no longer needs donated essentials, but encourages anyone who can to give to relief organizations like those that assisted them.

"If people donate, they're not just helping us, they're helping everyone else like us," McCurdy said.

Where the family could use some assistance is in rebuilding and replacing their furnishings, which weren't covered by insurance.

The McCurdys would like to start rebuilding soon, so they can have indoor plumbing before next winter, but they aren't sure they'll be able to afford to build a home as large as the one they lost.

"It might not be a big home. It might be a 24-by-24, but it'll be home, and we'll be together," she said.

Those wanting to make a donation can do so in the name of Robert and Rita McCurdy at First National Bank of Alaska, 44501 Sterling Highway, Soldotna, AK 99669.

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