CHUGIAK -- One of the longest days of Ian Murphy's life began ordinarily enough, with a routine trip to Chugiak High to drop off the family's foreign exchange student.
Seventeen hours later, Murphy was helping his fellow Chugiak volunteer firefighters finish dousing the smoldering ashes of his own home.
"It's always hard to watch something like that happen but it really hits you in the gut when you're looking at it and it's yours," said Murphy, whose family's home in Peters Creek was destroyed by the Jan. 5 blaze.
Murphy said he got up at about 5:30 a.m. that morning to take Ping-Ping, an exchange student from Thailand, to school. When he returned, his wife, their three young children and his father-in-law had just exited the home after hearing one of the house's eight smoke detectors go off.
"There wasn't smoke coming out of the roof just yet but it wasn't long," Murphy said.
With his family safe, Murphy's training as a firefighter kicked in. He said he engineered the attack engine for the duration of the blaze, which raged well into the night.
"We were working the fire grounds until shortly after 11 p.m. that night," he said.
With his family safe, Murphy said, the choice to try to fight the fire was an easy one.
"They were in a good, warm, safe place and I had to do my job to help my brothers and sisters of the fire department out," he said.
Chugiak volunteer fire department assistant chief Clifton Dalton said a call came in at about 7:45 a.m. that a house on Deer Park Drive was ablaze. When crews arrived, they found heavy smoke coming from the roof of the single-story home.
"It was burning undetected a long time before the residents were aware of it," Dalton said.
Dalton said the fire likely began as a chimney fire, then spread into the home's roof. Because the house has a multi-layered roof, the fire was able to spread extensively before anyone realized something was amiss.
"The thing that saved them was their smoke detector," Dalton said.
Murphy agreed that having working smoke detectors likely saved his family's lives.
"It was definitely the smoke detectors," he said.
Dalton said that the roof had three layers of building materials, making the fire very difficult to get to.
"Whenever it gets between the layers like that, it's almost impossible to fight," he said.
Dalton said the Red Cross was contacted to help the family with temporary housing assistance.
The fire department responded to the blaze with three engines, a heavy rescue truck and two medic units. Additionally, crews from Anchorage Fire Department Station 11 helped out with a ladder truck and engine truck.
Murphy said the family has been set up with temporary housing through their insurance company and is now in the process of determining what can be salvaged from the home. He doesn't think it will be much, and many of the family's priceless memories have been lost.
"There's stuff that's going to be replaceable, stuff that's hard to replace and there's stuff that's never going to be replaced," he said.
Among the most precious items lost, he said, are baby pictures from when the kids -- Jaden, 10, Canyon, 8, and Lily, 5 -- were born.
"That's the kicker," he said.
In the days since the fire, Murphy said, the family has received gifts and emotional support from across Alaska.
"It's been tremendous," he said. "It's been absolutely terrific. I never anticipated the amount of support."
Ian's father-in-law was in Alaska visiting the family at the time of the fire. Murphy said Ping-Ping is still living with them and she plans to continue staying with them for the rest of the school year.
"She's a member of the family now," he said.
A fund has been set up in Murphy's name at Northrim Bank for anyone wishing to lend financial assistance.
Murphy said the family plans to rebuild in Peters Creek.
"We definitely want to rebuild," he said. "Obviously, it's going to be a long time before we're able to start."
By MATT TUNSETH