Cordova residents come home

Families moving back in after fire damages apartments

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2000

Things were returning to normal Saturday at Cordova Heights Apartments in West Juneau, following Wednesday night's fire that drove about 40 residents from their homes.

Floors Galore was installing new carpet in two apartments on the second level of the three-level apartment complex.

Terri Widdas and her friend Mike Ekelmann toted boxes and furniture down a half flight of stairs and along a concrete balcony to their new apartment on the third level.

``The landlord (Hugh Grant) was real nice,'' said Widdas, who spent three nights with her family at the Baranof Hotel, ``and everybody tried to be real accommodating to us.''

Widdas and her children, Robyn, 11, and Ryan, 6, had just moved from Washington state to be closer to Ekelmann, an engineer for Ward Cove Packing Company for seven years.

``The management certainly made it easy for us,'' said Ekelmann.

Damage to their personal belongings was minimal, Widdas said.

``My daughter's bed is not recoverable and we don't know how bad the smoke damage is to the couches yet. And I'm not sure about the microwave,'' Widdas said.

``But we are out; we are alive,'' she added.

Meanwhile, red-headed Ryan was charging up and down, gleefully lugging personal items. First came his purple basketball net. Next he carted a red, blue and yellow inflatable chair that, even minus its air, was bigger than he was.

``It was good'' staying at the Baranof, Ryan Widdas said, but now he was more interested in moving his PlayStation and his play house to his new home - especially the play house because it was a secret even his mother didn't know about.

Ellen Wells, 41, lived in the apartment next door to Widdas. Although Widdas had just moved to Cordova Heights, Wells has been a resident of the complex for 10 years, calling it ``a decent place.''

Six apartments out of 24 were damaged. Wells' apartment was the worst - an entire living room wall turned to charcoal, an adjacent bedroom wall taken apart by firefighters searching for hot spots, drapes sooty around a display of handmade paper snowflakes taped to the picture window.

At noon Saturday, with the smell of smoke hanging in the damp air, Wells and her daughter, 17, were moving downstairs to another apartment. A coffee table, overstuffed chairs, a treasured mermaid with a purple tail, much-loved teddies and National Geographics were among the possessions they were transferring.

``I just feel lucky that there is somewhere I can move on such short notice,'' Wells said. ``We didn't lose much; we were very lucky. But I was concerned about family photos and my daughter's artwork.''

Firefighters extinguished the blaze quickly, avoiding the use of floods of water, minimizing damage to both the structure and residents' belongings.

Kathy Williams, manager of Grants Apartments, the complex across the street, gave credit to Grants resident Karen Soulier for her hospitality and quick thinking on Wednesday night.

``Karen is the head housekeeper at the Baranof,'' Williams said Saturday. ``She had 15 people (taking refuge) standing around in her apartment (Wednesday), and suggested we bed them down with pillows and blankets on floors of empty units here. But I was worried about the little ones being cold, so she offered to see if we could get them all rooms at the Baranof.''

``Karen was very instrumental in making everyone comfortable,'' Williams said.

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