Residents on Parks Highway learn of their property's fate

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Today homeowners along the fire-affected areas of the Parks Highway finally learned the fate of their properties at meetings with officials after assessors completed their damage assessments.

Patty Song learned that she was one of the lucky ones. She was cleared to go back to her property near Mile 90 of the Parks Highway.

"That's one trailer, and that's the other trailer,” she says looking around her property, “And everything else is standing. It's just amazing!"

Friday afternoon was the first time Patty Song had seen her home since last Sunday, when the McKinley Fire rapidly expanded southwards due to strong winds.

"It is a trip,” she said, observing the miraculous survival of her property in the midst of the charred and smoldering wreckage around her. “It's like, wow!"

Song knows she lucked out.

Patty Song looks at her property on Friday

“We know the people down there, we know people who have lost their stuff,” she says. “In this subdivision, there are very few people who still have their places."

Randale Sparks was less fortunate. He lives around Mile 91 on the Parks Highway. When he learned his home burned down, he directed his attention to volunteering at the Upper Susitna Senior Center in Talkeetna.

“I just decided, at that point that we accept the fate,” he said. “We got busy back here, and started trying to help people here."

Ashley Johnson's home at Mile 87.5 of the Parks Highway was also lost.

"Five dogs, two cats, geese, and chickens are what we could carry," Johnson said about her evacuation on Sunday.

Johnson says a friend told her earlier that chickens she left behind survived, but that her home was destroyed.

Even though she knew what the Mat-Su Borough would tell her about the property, Friday morning's meeting proved difficult.

"You can really tell that they definitely feel for us. We went in there, we sat down, he showed me the pictures. You could tell he was even hesitant to show me just because it is devastating to see," Johnson said.

"You see everything you own just gone. I mean just gone," she said.

Now, she and her family are staying with a friend.

Mat-Su Borough EMS Director Ken Barkley said about half of those who lost their home have already found a temporary place to stay with friends or family.

But even with support, moving forward is a slow process. Evacuees have not been cleared for re-entry due to active firefighting operations.

"One day at a time. By the grace of God and with my friends. I mean this community's been amazing,” said Johnson. “They've come together, helped us get clothes, helped us get blankets, help us get even a place to stay in. It's just been amazing with that aspect.”

Johnson said she hopes to rebuild, but there are more pressing obstacles to overcome in the immediate future.

"We want to rebuild on the property, we want to go back up there," Johnson said. "Right now it's just figuring out trying to get the kids back to school and getting supplies that we need. Basically just living day to day to try to figure it out. It's really hard to plan ahead when you don't even know what's going on, so you just kinda do what you can here."

Grant Robinson and Derek Minemyer contributed to reporting.

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