Family picks up pieces after blaze destroys trailer home

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2002

Tera Ollila was driving home from work the same way she always did Tuesday night - until she remembered she didn't have a home to go to.

Ollila's Kodzoff Acres trailer home burned down Monday evening, leaving Ollila, her two young children and a 19-year-old roommate without a home.

"A million things go through your mind," Ollila said. "My first thought was Crusher, our dog. I pretty much knew he didn't make it and I just lost it. ... I still don't think it's all hit me yet."

On Monday night Ollila, her daughter Kaitlyn, 10, and son Trenton, 5, were headed out for a shopping trip to Kmart. When they returned an hour later, fire engines blocked the entrance to the mobile home park. The family went to a neighbor's home to wait.

"I got a call from my mom and she told me that it was my trailer," Ollila said. "A neighbor had called her. I just couldn't believe it. We had just run in there to get the shopping list. We were just in there."

Ollila said the hardest losses were family photos and mementos.

"When I was 8 my house burned down and we lost all of my baby pictures," she said. "And now my kids have to go through the same thing of losing all of those memories and growing up without them."

Ollila said firefighters told her the fire spread front to back in the trailer leaving nothing untouched, with one prickly exception the family's pet hedgehog, Henrietta.

Despite intense heat, which broke the glass aquarium holding Henrietta, and smoke and fire all around the cage, the hedgehog was not seriously harmed.

"After the fire was already out," said Ollila, "they saw that she was still alive and started trying to save her. It's just amazing that she lived."

Some of the firefighters took Henrietta into an ambulance where she was given oxygen and began breathing normally.

While the family is ecstatic about Henrietta, the Ollila kids still miss Crusher.

"He was special," said Kaitlyn Simonson, Ollila's daughter. "He was my only dog and my favorite even though he couldn't do much."

As for 5-year-old Trenton Simonson, what his animal friends went through is proving to be too much.

"When I hear about animals being in danger or scared," he said, "I just don't know what to say."

Ollila said she still hasn't been back to see what remains of her home and belongings.

"I know I should probably do that just to see what's left, if anything," she said. "I just haven't been able to do it yet."

Since Monday the family has been staying with Ollila's parents in a small apartment and worrying about Ollila's former roommate Eugene Atkinson.

"He's lost everything too," she said. "He's staying at the Frontier Suites Hotel, but only for a week and then we don't know what he'll do. We're really worried about him, he's a good friend, and we hope people can help him out like they've helped us."

Ollila said though conditions are not ideal, she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community. Calls averaging 10 to 20 per day have poured in since people heard about the fire, she said.

Ollila said today she was approved for an new apartment she will move into this weekend. Ollila said however, her family could still use some help with start-up money for their new home.

"It's been incredible to see how this community has come together to help us," she said. "We are just so grateful. It just feels so good to know we live in a community that would embrace us like this."

Anyone wishing to send money, sundries, clothing or toys to the Ollila family or Atkinson can call her parents at 789-1483 for more information. An account in their name has also been opened at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union.

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