Woman burned, son OK in Kenai blaze

Fire destroys home

Posted: Friday, November 24, 2006


  Flames engulfed a Kenai home on Thursday, leaving a mother and her 8-year-old son homeless on Thanksgiving Day. Courtesy of the Kenai Police Dep

Flames engulfed a Kenai home on Thursday, leaving a mother and her 8-year-old son homeless on Thanksgiving Day.

Courtesy of the Kenai Police Dep

A Kenai mother and her 8-year-old son had to look deep to find things to be thankful for other than their own safety on Thanksgiving Day after a fire consumed their home and belongings.

Early Thursday morning a fire destroyed Charlene Sterling’s home of 23 years at 309 McKinley St. in Kenai.

Charlene’s son, Colton Sterling, escaped the fire safely, and she suffered second-degree burns on her left hand in an attempt to extinguish the fire.

The Kenai Fire Department received Sterling’s call reporting the fire at 5:20 a.m. She said she first noticed the fire after she woke up to use the bathroom. Upon returning to her bedroom Sterling smelled something burning, heard the fire alarms go off and then saw flames burning beside and under her bed.

Colton immediately ran to a neighbor’s house when he heard the fire alarms and Sterling attempted to extinguish the flames using blankets and water.

“I went to get water out of the sink and it just wasn’t coming out fast enough,” she said. “And I got like half of a big cook pot and dumped it on there, and it hardly did anything to it and that’s when I realized there’s no way I’m going to contain that.”

When the fire department arrived at the single family, ranch-style house flames had already engulfed it, said James Baisden, assistant fire chief.

“This was what we call a defensive operation. We couldn’t make an interior attack,” he said. “It was going pretty good.”

He said the home was a total loss and estimated the home and its contents were worth approximately $150,000.

Twelve personnel, three Kenai Fire Department engines and one Nikiski Fire Department engine responded to the fire and announced the fire under control in about an hour, Baisden said.

Baisden said the cause of the fire is under investigation, but Sterling said she thinks the fire may have been caused by an electrical problem.

She said she and Colton lost nearly everything they own, their dog is missing and she is in a lot of pain. In addition to the second-degree burns she suffered on her left hand, Sterling also suffered minor burns to her right hand.

“They’re not as bad,” she said. “But the ones on my left hand are just — the skin’s peeling away and I have other medical problems where I have experienced high levels of pain (but) the burn’s the worst. I can’t imagine what a third-degree burn would be like.”

Sterling also has a 16-year-old son, but said he has been living with a friend during the school year and is OK.

It’s always a tragedy to lose one’s home, but losing one’s home on a holiday makes the event sadder still, Baisden said.

“Whenever you have it happen on a holiday it magnifies the loss,” he said.

Sterling said she would spend the rest of Thanksgiving Day helping friends who recently moved to the area unpack to distract her from her own loss, and that she and her son would eat Thanksgiving dinner with them.

Kelly Hurd with the American Red Cross in Anchorage said the organization is helping the family get back on its feet.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to help Sterling and her children can contact the Red Cross at 283-4556 or online at www.redcross.org.

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