Fire survivors hope for help

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2001

Monday started like any other morning for Joanne Felipe.

Getting up, eating breakfast, saying goodbye to husband Knute Sr. as he left their Glacier View Mobile Home Park home on an errand, taking calls from her children, starting to listen to "Problem Corner" on the radio.

The only thing out of the ordinary was the behavior of Buddy, the Felipes' grandson's dog.

"He had a weird whine," Joanne Felipe recalled. "He kept looking at the kitchen."

Then just after 11 a.m., as she walked from the kitchen to the living room, she saw a flash behind her.

"I looked over to my left ... and the fire was already engulfed up to the ceiling," she said.

The blaze erupted without warning; Felipe had been back and forth between the kitchen and living room all morning without sensing anything amiss.

"I didn't smell anything, I didn't see anything," she said.

As soon as Felipe saw the flames, she ran outside, called 911 and flagged down passersby Marvin Willard and Fred Wigg. She said they checked to make sure no one was inside, and ushered her to safety.

"They stopped the car, ran inside," she said. "They started hearing pops and said, 'We've got to go, we've got to go, it's going to go.' "

Firefighters got the call at 11:16 a.m. and arrived on scene at 11:22 a.m., but the trailer Joanne and Knute Felipe Sr. shared with their two adult sons, Brian and Knute Jr., was fully engulfed and was a total loss. There was no insurance.

Joanne Felipe said fire officials have told her the blaze originated under the kitchen stove, where it may have been smoldering for some time before erupting Monday. Looking back, she said she feels the odd behavior of the dog - who escaped unharmed - may have been a signal that something was wrong.

For now, Knute Jr. and Brian are staying at friends' homes, and Knute Sr. and Joanne are staying with their daughter Melisa, her husband and children in their Sprucewood home. That trailer - now overcrowded - cannot be a long-term housing solution, Joanne Felipe said.

The only things Felipe could bring out at the time of the blaze were the clothes she was wearing and the cordless phone in her hand.

"All the presents for the grandchildren went up in the flames," Knute Felipe Sr. said.

Still, a few items were saved.

Joanne Felipe said a shelf in her closet collapsed in the fire, protecting some photos and four irreplaceable vests made by her grandmother.

The vests - one for Joanne, and three small ones once worn by her children, and now by her grandchildren - survived intact.

"I can't believe it," she said. "I was just ecstatic when they brought them."

Joanne Felipe said Glacier View is going to take care of removing the burned trailer and is assisting the family in securing a new home there. Getting money to make payments for that new home is a pressing need, she said.

The family also said they need to replace nearly everything - clothes, towels, blankets and household items - and even food for the dog, who is staying with a family friend.

They also would like to replace the seven grandchildren's Christmas presents that were lost in the fire.

Those interested in assisting the family can drop off funds directed to Knute Felipe's account at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, or call the family at 790-5335 or 723-3854.

Andrew Krueger can be reached at

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