Up from the ashes: Family rebuilds home after losing it to devastating blaze

Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2010

One week ago, the site of Angeline "Angie" Stewart's home was still a smoking charred pile of rubble.

Back | Next
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Larry Bragraw, Ray White, Bill Sheldon, Tom Patterson, David Fairbanks and other members of the Sterling Brotherhood work last week on a cabin to replace the home Angeline Stewart lost to fire on Greenridge Street in Soldotna earlier this month.

On Thursday, in the clear, frosty October morning air, about a half dozen volunteers pounded nails and sawed off lengths of clean lumber, while others installed wiring into the cabin that was sprouting up from the freshly graveled lot on 36055 Greenridge St.

There was still a smell of smoke in the air, it wafted from a small fire pit at the edge of the site where a few scraps crackled and popped so the carpenters could warm their hands.

"Somebody said I should call 'Extreme Home Makeover'" Stewart said, "I said, 'I did, this is Alaska style, dude.'"

Stewart's former home caught fire in the early morning hours of Oct. 7.

In minutes the structure was roaring, and her longtime companion Gerald "Jerry" Terp, 55, of Soldotna, was burned in the blaze.

Terp was still at Seattle's Harborview Burn Center on Thursday for serious burns he suffered on his left foot, right hand as well as to his lungs.

Rising from the unsteady foundations of a tragedy, Stewart's new life is being built on a timbered frame nailed solidly in place by family, friends, friends of friends and even strangers.

"This is not a tragedy," the 47 year-old Stewart said, though, "It's a transformation."

"At 2:30 this morning, because I was still awake making lists and stuff, I'm like, it's been exactly one week and look where I am," she said, as she stood outside the new 20-foot by about 48-foot home that was already walled in and would likely have rafters by the time the crew called it a day.

Stewart has known adversity and challenge before, and her ability to grab a potentially tragic situation and make it better has become a sort of the mantra to her life.

She's raised her four children as a single mother, she said, and worked just about every job there is to work to make ends meet.

Even her arrival to the Kenai Peninsula rings of this.

Stewart said that back in 1993 she was living in Southeast and was in an abusive relationship.

"I finally got the courage to leave him, so I stole $500 out of his account and bought tickets to Anchorage," she said. "We had a couple hundred dollars when we got there and we took everything of value we could think of and pawned it."

She said they bought a car that didn't have reverse gear and started down the Seward Highway, eventually planning to go to Kodiak where she could find work commercial fishing.

The metallic grinding of fate caught back up with her near Skilak Lake, when the car's fan began to "eat the radiator."

To keep the car from overheating in the late July heat, she said they sped along hoping to make it Soldotna.

Right around Robinson Loop Road in Sterling, she hit a wall of puttering motor homes, and the car overheated yet again at the crawling speed.

Not wanting to completely destroy their only means of transportation, they sat there, waiting for the engine to cool back down so they could get going again.

That's when a family pulled up and asked what was wrong.

Stewart said they were taken in, set up with a place to live, and ultimately even had their car fixed.

Kodiak fell off her map.

Not long after that she said she met Terp while trying to fix the car of the woman who she was living with.

"He was my resource guy, because I didn't know anybody, I didn't know a soul when I got here. So, it just went from there," she said.

She hasn't left yet, and while the fire consumed her home, evaporated her cell phone with all her contacts and even turned part of her savings from working as a waitress to ashes, she's not giving up.

"I'm not selling it, it's mine, you know how hard it is to be a single mother raising four kids to get their own place to live?" She said, fighting to hold back her emotions. "Maybe it was a piece of crap and maybe it was a death trap, but it's mine and I'm the one who made it last time so I can make it happen again this time."

She said the outpouring of support she's seen has been overwhelming.

Her boss, Ted Sisson, owner of Sal's Klondike Diner, laid her off so she could rebuild, gave her a Home Depot card to use and was sponsoring a fundraiser feed on Friday to raise money.

She's worked for Sisson for five years, she said, and it's a job that's allowed her to keep up with her studies while earning an income.

"He believes in me," she said.

Her friend Tim "Robin Hood" Robertson, meanwhile, has been instrumental in getting the project organized and finding volunteers to put time in.

An informal Sterling-based group known as the Sterling Brotherhood has been onsite almost daily for the past week.

As the hustle and bustle picked up on Thursday morning with the arrival of a load of lumber and scaffolding, friends stopped by to offer what they could.

Her family too, has been there to do everything from clear her old homesite to provide support. In Washington state, Stewart said family there is ready to care for Terp whenever he's released from the hospital, so he has a place to stay while they finish construction.

She said old friends were coming out of the woodwork as the news spread, some she hadn't seen in years.

Stewart's new cell phone was going off perpetually, too, through out the morning.

"I just network until I can find (what we need) and network until I can pay for it," she said. "And I won't be that bad off in debt I think."

"I'm cruising on some good energy," she said, "And I'm just going to suck it in."

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.

Subscribe to Peninsula Clarion

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us