While most people were watching the Super Bowl, Amanda McAdoo spent Sunday afternoon sifting through the remnants of her home, stuffing heat-warped, ash-covered things into black trash bags.
“It might be a trailer, and it might not be much, but it’s all we’ve got,” McAdoo said of the Dimond Estates residence she called home for three years.
McAdoo was relaxing in bed with her husband Friday evening, fading slowly to sleep. Then in a blink she was clutching a bible she keeps nearby and a framed family photograph, running into the cold wearing only her pajamas.
McAdoo’s husband, 7-year-old son and 22-year-old daughter also made it outside safely, and the Anchorage Fire Department was on scene fast enough to keep the blaze from burning out of control.
But she will need to find a new place to live while they figure out whether the trailer can be refurbished to a livable condition, and many of the things inside her home are not salvageable.
How can the family keep her kid in the same elementary school? Where will money needed to repair and replace everything come from? What could have been done differently?
Similar dilemmas are never more common in Alaska than during the winter, according to the Anchorage Fire Department. The uptick in cold-weather fires happened again this year.
What seems to be the problem for the McAdoo family is that a vent beneath a drying machine was directed beneath the trailer, rather than outside.
“We would flip our dryer on anytime the pipes froze up,” she said. “I never knew there was anything wrong with it.”
Many common problems lead to house fires this time of year.
On the night before Christmas, AFD Battalion Chief Kevin Keene stood outside an Old Harbor Road house that caught fire. A gas fireplace was full of soot, and the fire spread quickly through the walls of the East Anchorage home.
“If I was burning wood a lot, I’d clean it out twice a year,” Keen said.
After a Jan. 14 fire burned a multiplex residence on North Flower Street, Keene said plug-in heaters are also problematic.
“You can’t have anything around it,” he said. “We’ve had a fire or two where they’ve had a portable heater.”
According to Sr. Captain Mike Murphy, the department gets the most calls from unattended stovetops that spark up.
“People put something on the stove,” Murphy said after a Jan. 20 Birch Road fire. “They fall asleep, walk away and leave it. Then we get called.”
Another important step is to keep a fire extinguisher on hand and an emergency kit that is easy to grab on the way out in case you need to vacate on short notice.
“It's got a first aid kit, it's got a hat in case we need to evacuate in the winter. It's got some Gatorade, some other canned food items, hand warmers,” said Laura West, a preparedness specialist for the American Red Cross of Alaska.
West said the Red Cross gets a call from AFD anytime a fire or another disaster leaves people in need of assistance.
The nonprofit provides immediate needs like clothing, basic hygiene goods and shelter for about three days.
Beyond that, it is easier for people to adjust to a disaster if people have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, West said. But it can be difficult but without that safety net.
McAdoo said she will be able to stay with family for a couple months while everything settles, and various groups in the community are planning a couple fundraisers to help the family get on their feet.
“I can’t say enough about Alaskans, how fast people are to step up,” she said. “People I don’t even know contacting me, offering to make meals. It’s been unreal.”
An account has been set up at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union in her name, and she said excess funds will be donated to local organizations that support people in moments of crisis.
“My son wants to come home, and I have to keep telling him he can’t,” she said. “Now we need to figure out if we can rebuild or if we have to move on.”