20 years later Big Lake remembers Miller's Reach fire

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BIG LAKE, Alaska (KTUU) June marks the 20th anniversary of the Miller’s Reach fire. The Division of Forestry says the blaze destroyed 344 structures, burning 37, 366 acres in total. One of the biggest wildfires Alaska has ever seen.

“We stood out on the highway watching everything explode thinking there it all goes everything we worked for gone in moments,” says Trisha McDougall.

McDougall lives right off of Millers Reach road, and says even though it’s been 20 years it’s still emotional.

“It has to be the longest summer of my life up here, and when the fire danger goes up I’m still on alert to this day.”

This story is similar to many who lived in the area in 1996 like Cathi Kramer who lost a new home on Horseshoe Lake just days after moving in.

“I grabbed family pictures thank goodness,” said Kramer who now serves as the Horseshoe Lake Firewise Coordinator. “I felt very blessed we did not have to evacuate.”

Along with promoting fire safety Kramer put together the Big Lake Block Party to remember the Miller’s Reach Fire.

“I went to the fire department, and said we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the Miller’s Reach Fire we really should do something.”

In the middle of the block party the West Lakes Fire Department held a ceremony unveiling a new plaque that read, “Most of all we saw the best of people.”

Kramer said the plaque’s placement is significant since it sits right next to a tree which was planted right after the wildfire in 1996.

“I was over there cleaning by the tree and that little plaque had been buried,” said Kramer. “That answered all of our questions. The new plaque has to go there.”

Kramer says the block party was also an opportunity to spread the word to those living in the area about defensible space, and why it’s so important