FAIRBANKS — Laurielynne Soule and Dave Hendrickson are a couple who can’t say no to someone in need. Throughout the years, they have added three adopted and several foster children to their blended family, along the way picking up one half-blind pony, a fat goat, three ferrets and a dog. This would make for a full house if it weren’t for the fact that the Soule-Hendricksons no longer have one.
Since their house on Despain Lane was destroyed by an electrical fire June 12, the family of 11 has been living outside on their property. The charred husk of their two story house squats at the edge of a yard filled with tents, tarped-over enclosures and animal pens.
A mismatched assortment of chairs cluster around a makeshift firepit where the family cooks its dinners, often using pieces of their former home as fuel.
Everywhere there is mud.
“We’re just so cold,” said Soule, 41, picking her way slowly through the huge puddles left over from almost a week of rain.
Soule walks with the aid of a cane since her wheelchair and walker were ruined in the fire. She needs both knees replaced but is unable to have the procedure since she contracted methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, while having stomach surgery. Most of her medications were also lost, and she is having trouble replacing them.
Soule seems stunned by the magnitude of her family’s plight.
“It’s all gone,” said Soule, tears trickling slowly down her cheeks. “We’re going on 20 days now since the fire, and we don’t have anything.”
Soule gestures to her 9-year-old daughter Jericho, who sits quietly eating a bowl of Crunchberries cereal at a large picnic table. “She has no toys. Her Barbie Jeep got destroyed. Her biological mother collected horses (figurines) and they got destroyed,” Soule said.
The members of the Soule-Hendrickson clan living on the property include biological and adopted children Naomi, 21; Mathew, 20; Clancy, 19; Colt, 18; Emily, 18; Justice, 16; and Jericho, 9. Shayla, 18, lives elsewhere but comes by every night to help. Eldest daughter Jessica, 22, also lives elsewhere but she and husband Randy and his mother Geneva live on the family’s 2.5-acre lot. Geneva lives in a small cabin that escaped the fire, which provides the family with electricity but not running water.
“We have no toilets, no showers, no refrigeration,” Soule said. “We’re digging holes to put the food in to try to keep it cool, but the food’s not lasting.”
The family gets a food basket from the Fairbanks Community Food Bank every Friday, but it’s gone by Tuesday, Soule said. This week, they didn’t get a basket because, when they went to pick it up, they found that the building was closed for a four-day weekend.
The family has thought about seeking shelter at the Fairbanks Rescue Mission but feel they need to stay at their property so they can continue the daunting task of sifting through the rubble and removing the refuse.
“The older kids work all day and then they come home and cart stuff off,” Soule said. “My kids are troupers. They lost their whole world and they still won’t leave us. But these kids need a break, they need a treat. They don’t deserve this.”
Soule’s husband, David works the graveyard shift as a ramp agent for Alaska Airlines. Soule, who used to work as a street outreach coordinator for Family Focus and also ran a flea market on College Road, can no longer work because of her poor health.
Their house was not insured because their insurance company dropped them after their septic system backed up and ruined their floors, Soule said.
The fire is just one more misfortune in the string of tragedies that have beset the family.
Two years ago, their oldest son, Cody, was killed after he lost control of his truck after his tire blew out as he was rounding a corner on Chena Ridge Road.
A month later, Emily and Shayla were riding a four-wheeler to place flowers at the site when they were struck by a Ford F-350 pickup truck. Emily’s leg was broken in 72 places and doctors in Fairbanks and Anchorage wanted to amputate. She was flown to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, where her leg was saved after numerous surgeries and painful muscle grafts. Shayla suffered a collapsed lung and a broken femur. The driver of the truck did not have insurance and was driving with a suspended license, Soule said.
The family has received some help from local charities. The Red Cross put them up for three nights at Super 8 Motel. Love Inc. donated three blankets and two pillows, and Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption donated the tents in which the family lives. The manager of Denny’s gave them a free breakfast the day after the fire, and David’s co-workers donated clothing and a check for $300. The Mormon Church delivered a trash container and has promised to empty it and bring it back as many times as needed, and Alaska Feed Co. donated two bales of hay for Rosie, the elderly pony.
Soule is extremely grateful for the help they have received but would appreciate a little more, she said.
“I need to get that house pulled the rest of the way down. We need heavy equipment in here. We need tailings. We could use some propane for the barbecue so we can cook on it. Our stashes of food are gone, our generator is gone, and my family is so scared about not making it through the winter. We just need help,” Soule said.