The woman who lost her home one year ago in the Twin Creeks Fire still lives on her Chiniak property and is doing well, thanks to the kindness of the community.
“I was just thinking this morning how glad I was that I wasn’t going to be in that camper again all winter,” said Mary Brown. The camper she overwintered in was cramped, and the whole thing could fit in her current bedroom.
Brown’s home and all her possessions burned in the fire that scorched almost 5,000 acres in late August 2015.
Hers was the only home lost to the fire, although the Chiniak Library and a remote cabin also burned.
Brown spent last winter in a camper parked in Chiniak, but now lives in a mobile home donated and moved to her property by locals and her son-in-law.
“Everyone just donated their time,” Brown said. “It was out of the kindness of their heart.”
She now lives in the mobile home that has a generator but no running water. So far, she hasn’t been able to get the utilities hooked up.
The generator powers the lights. She buys mostly canned and nonperishable food and only small amounts of perishables. She had fresh lettuce and veggies all summer from her garden. Over the winter, she expects to be able to preserve perishables easier with colder weather.
Her son hauls water from a spring near the Kodiak Fairgrounds for drinking. A creek that runs through her property provides water for dishes.
The mobile home has a washing machine and dryer, but without water or electricity, she hauls her laundry into town to wash.
Still, she says it’s been wonderful to be out of the camper.
“The first thing I did was hang my clothes up in my closet,” Brown said. “That was a big deal to me, to have room to hang my clothes up so I could find things.”
The comforts of home that burned up have all been replaced. She has couches, beds, a table, lamps, dishes and clothing, much of it donated after the fire.
But not everything can be replaced.
“My pictures and things that my kids made and so on, I can’t replace,” Brown said.
Looking back, Brown said she left her house in a rush, frightened when the fire started.
“If I had to do things differently, I wouldn’t have panicked,” Brown said. “I would have stayed longer and tried to pack things up that meant a lot to me.”
Some of Brown’s animals, turned loose when she fled, were lost in the fire, but others are safe and still with her.
“I turned my chickens loose, and I don’t know what they did,” Brown said. “I did find two dead ones, but the critters might have gotten the rest.”
Her dogs were with her when she left, and her horses were later found just fine.
“I knew they were smart enough to stay away,” Brown said.
On her almost three-acre parcel, Brown said she lost just one tree. Her currant and raspberry bushes and strawberries came back this year, although they didn’t bear much fruit.
She spent hours laboring over the summer to clean up fire debris.
What will come next is still unknown. Brown said Chiniak has changed a lot since she purchased her property. Logging has changed the land, and residents worry about logging debris increasing the potential for another fire.
Brown lives on a fixed income, and said she doesn’t yet know if she’ll rebuild her house. She has considered selling the property.
“It’s been different, but I’m happy to have a home again,” Brown said. “I really am thankful.”
Contact staff reporter Julie Herrmann at firstname.lastname@example.org.