Families left recovering from McKinley Fire have long road ahead

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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - Out in the Valley, families are looking to rebuild following the devastation left behind by the McKinley Fire. One of those families is the Finch family, whose former residence was one of 52 homes taken out by the fire.

Ash and burned metal are most of what's left of a Valley family home following the McKinley Fire. Oct. 17, 2019.

"There was so much hope as I came up and I saw the neighbors' houses were still there," David Finch said.

The Finches are still working on cleanup two months after the fire - melted metal, piles of dirt and ash abound on their property - but they said they are hopeful for a bright future ahead, despite the fears that come with the unknown.

"I always try to prep myself and be a step ahead," said Kristy Finch, David's wife. "Something like this? You can never prepare for."

What was a two-story building and structures, David said, became a few-foot-high pile of ash and metal debris in a matter of moments. The home was more than a decade in the making.

"I vacationed up here," said David, a native of Detroit, Michigan. "Then I would save up, and every two weeks to a month, I would come up and clear the land and put foundation in, one step at a time. And it took ten years before all the doors and windows were in."

Along with the home's inhabitants, including husband David, with Kristy, and their five dogs, the family welcome sign is one of the few things left standing. Unfinished, the home was uninsured, they said.

"I can't believe the devastation," Kristy said, "and so quick. I left for work that morning, walked out. You never realize - take for granted almost - how much your home means to you until it's gone."

There is little left on their property anymore, which once included a house, outhouse, carport, shed, and other amenities. The Finches said they had hopes of installing a well for the days they didn't want to make the trek to the creek for water.

"It was a dream home, and it was small, but that was just fine," David said. "We didn't need something big. We were happy just to have this place that I put together with my own hands, something I designed myself. It was exactly what we wanted."

Amid the rubble, David found the ashen remnants of family heirlooms no longer glimmering, but still treasured.

"These are what I was given when I was born," he said, pointing out a set of tiny, fire-tarnished spoons. "My father's watch, my father's stuff. This is all that's left of my memories in the house.

"Family heirlooms of grandparents and parents are no longer with us anymore," he said. "Fireproof safe didn't do enough, but we'll clean it up the best we can."

In slightly better condition was a ring, belonging to David's late wife who passed after a battle with cancer. Her ashes, he said, disappeared in the fire.

"A lot of the stuff we won't be able to fix or replace. But this," said Kristy, holding up the ring, "I'm hoping we can have a little something. We'll take this, clean it up, and maybe we can smile and look at it and think positive. This is such a negative, and I think that the more we stay positive, the more we can get things done."

Despite the many twists and turns, and losing their home for the holidays and regular days, too, this family is pushing on.

"I know that in a drop of a dime I could call and have people willing to - when and if we get materials - they will be here to help," Kirsty said, "and we will rebuild."

She and David said they are grateful for the help they've received thus far, and are thankful to have made it out of the fire with their pets. They are fortunate, they said, to be staying at a friend's place this winter, with hopes of cleaning up enough in the coming weeks to be able to start to rebuild next summer. They may even go after that well they wanted so badly.

"We ain't going somewhere else," David said. "We're staying in this area, we're going to rebuild here. It's going to take a while before it looks the same, and a lot of work, but we're up to it."

The Finch family is primarily looking for help getting new building supplies, but are accepting monetary support. You can contribute by following the linkhere to the family GoFundMe page.

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