Gretchen and Scott MacDonald
Photos and Story by Katie Writer – KTNA
The Upper Susitna Senior Center on the Parks Highway offers shelter on the North end of the Sockeye Fire. Red Cross’ Gretchen MacDonald, head of Public Affairs of the Upper Su, and Shelter Manager, Scott MacDonald offered a safe haven for those in need during the road closure of the Parks Highway on Sunday, June 13th. A total of 168 people filled the shelter and parking lot form 8:00 pm to 3:00 am.
A majority of the travelers were out and about enjoying the beautiful weather on Sunday. Little did they know that their Sunday drive would turn into an overnighter.
“A lot of people just stayed in their cars, waiting. They said, ‘We don’t need the shelter. We just need to get out of here.’ So, they were very anxious to get on the road as quick as they could. ”
Many of the out-of-state travelers were feeling vulnerable due to the uncertainty of the situation as well as lack of lodging in the Talkeetna area.
Katie Writer: Did you get turned around on the [Parks] Highway?
Mary Perkins: We did. We sat out there about five hours. [Mary’s husband] is a diabetic and also has COPD, so he’s suffering, right now.”
Kristy Grove of Houston, Texas watched a dogsled team be fed in the parking lot of the Senior Center. While her immediate concern was catching her flight out of Anchorage the following day, she was equally concerned about the abnormal weather phenomena she would come home to in Texas.
“There is a storm coming up, and our other son said it can have between six and ten inches of rain, so we have had a lot of rain.”
There were far fewer people at the Shelter on Monday that actually live in the fire zone. While resting her granddaughter, Sophie on her shoulder, Willow resident Betty Patterson spoke about the importance of priorities when dealing with the decision to get out of the fire zone.
“In any devastation like this, materialistic things, homes and whatever, can be replaced, but lives can’t.We’re just thankful that we have our family.”
The dog mushing community has also been hit hard by the Sockeye Fire. Iditarod mushers have teamed together for evacuee’s on the South end of the Fire, according to Gretchen MacDonald.
“We’ve had calls from mushers who have space available for fellow mushers, for their dogs. We’ve had offers of food. We don’t need them at this point, because we’re a transient shelter, right now.”
Willow musher Tracey Schaefer decided to play it safe by evacuating to the Senior Center with her 29 sled dogs, a house cat, and 4 house dogs. She said she had almost everything she needed.
“Right now, I’m ok. My trailer needs a little bit of WD-40.”
As the Sockeye Fire continues to burn, multiple sources of information are available to Susitna Valley residents and those who may become stranded by the fire.
The phone number for the Red Cross volunteers at the Upper Susitna Senior Center is 907-355-3422
The Mat-Su Borough’s Evacuation Info line is 907/861-8326
The Statewide Fire Information hotline is: 907/892-9413
Those wishing to donate to the Red Cross shelters call 907-357-6060.
Those numbers and more information are available at ktna.org and on the KTNA Facebook page.