Tok Volunteers Rebuild Family's House after Fire
Community helps woman who lost everything
A power drill pierces the calm winter air in Tok. January is an unusual time of year for this kind of work but this isn't your typical home building project. This little house will eventually belong to Amanda Valenzuela.
Seven months ago she moved back to Tok from Anchorage to help refurbish her dad's home, located about a mile before the intersection of the Tok Cut-Off and Alaska-Canadian Highway.
Those plans were dramatically changed early on December 1, when Valenzuela and her two children awoke to a swift-moving fire.
"It had gotten out of that first room, and I had disbursed the entire fire extinguisher, and it was blowing back on me like burning rubber,” said Valenzuela. “I burned a lot of my face and my hair.”
Her daughter may have saved the family. She was the first to notice the flames, which quickly turned into a raging fire.
"I told mom, I'm too scared to go back there, and she said: Wake up Darin, Wake Up Darin! Because Darin was still asleep,” said 6-year-old Mea Valenzuela.
Mea, her brother Darin and Amanda barely escaped with their lives and the clothes on their back, but they were far from safe.
Temperatures were hovering at 41 below zero that night and Valenzuela’s car wouldn't start.
"I said, ‘Lord, please don't let us die out here,’ and my car started, it went and I got over to my uncle's house and called for help,” said Valenzuela. “By the time they got there, it was too late. There was nothing they could do."
They may have not been able to save the home her dad built, but weeks later, a new one is emerging from the ashes. It’s all thanks to a band of volunteers led by Tim Foshe.
Plumbers, carpenters and contractors all donated their time and money to help rebuild Amanda’s home.
"Those ten guys, I don't think any of us have ever worked together before on any one job,” said Foshe. “We're all from different parts, school teachers, et cetera, but we all have experience from building our own places."
It wasn't just free elbow grease. Businesses from Anchorage to Fairbanks stepped up by donating thousands of dollars worth of windows, supplies, and even heavy machinery to help clean up the debris.
"I knew that the community was a good community,” said Valenzuela. “They've always been there to help each other out. It's been such a blessing, but I didn't expect for this to go this far, to rebuild a whole house, with no expense to myself."
The work is far from done, and Foshe isn't sure how much more supplies or funds they may need. But Valenzuela says moving back to Tok and going through the fire made her realize what she had left behind.
"If it would have happened anywhere else, (this) wouldn't have happened. Nobody would have banded together the way this little town has. They just wouldn't have."
Amanda's family should be ready to move into her new home before early March. The family still needs items like clothes, dressers, and home furnishings.
John Rusyniak is accepting donations for the family. He can be reached at 907-883-3124.
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