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Wasilla couple lose home, dogs in fire

Zaz Hollander
Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- A fast-moving house fire early Wednesday morning destroyed a couple's home just east of Wasilla near the Parks Highway.

Two dogs died inside the house.

Ron and Lena Oliver smelled smoke as soon as they woke up around 6 a.m. Black smoke poured from the back of the house when they looked out the bedroom window.

Ron Oliver said the fire appeared to start in the garage near where he kept poultry warm with a heater. Oliver said he used up two fire extinguishers and his water supply on the fire before escaping through the garage door. Lena Oliver got out through the front door.

Three hours later, Ron Oliver stood in the rain outside the blackened shell of their home on South Vicki Way, his hands blackened with soot and shaking with adrenaline. He said he burned his arms trying to put out the fire.

The home was insured, Oliver said. Personal property wasn't.

He kept running scenarios through his head. Maybe he shouldn't have laid down fresh straw for the chickens, ducks and geese in the garage.

Maybe he shouldn't have used the space heater he bought just three days earlier to keep the birds warm.

"It'll probably sink in in about an hour," said Oliver, a plumbing, heating and refrigeration specialist in the Valley for 30 years. "I'll probably break down and lose it."

The Central Mat-Su Fire Department got the call about the fire at 6:02 a.m., according to Central Mat-Su Chief James Steele. Nine fire trucks and five command and support vehicles responded from Central Mat-Su, Palmer and Houston.

Steady winds fanned the fire, Steele said.

The department is still investigating the cause, he said. The home is likely a total loss given combination of fire, smoke and water damage.

Wednesday morning, the two dogs' bodies lay in the back of Oliver's pickup under soot-covered blankets: Recon, a young husky mix from Big Lake musher Martin Buser's kennel, and Snoopy, a 4-year-old Jack Russell terrier.

Lena Oliver carried the terrier out of the house, along with one of the couple's cats, a friend said. But when Oliver stopped to put the dog on the ground, it ran back into the house and the flames blocked Oliver from going back in.

She got one cat into the pickup. Another cat, outside already, came around the corner as the fire burned. The two cats pawed at the windows of the white pickup on Wednesday morning. The birds all survived.

Friends from the Olivers' church, Family Christian Center in Palmer, said they're collecting clothes and other donations for the couple. The American Red Cross of Alaska also met with the Olivers at the house Wednesday morning.

Ron Oliver said the couple planned to stay with friends and family.

He shook his head talking about how important safety is to him on the job.

"Thirty years I've been doing this, I'ver never had a fire," he said.

Reach Zaz Hollander at or 257-4317.