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Point MacKenzie general store owners pick up pieces after fire

POINT MACKENZIE, Alaska -- If not for the yellow caution tape surrounding the Point MacKenzie General Store and Cafe, it's hard to notice much damage from a fire Thursday morning.

But look closer, and it's obvious. The top window is broken out, with nothing but black behind it. Above it an American flag hangs, its bottom charred and tattered.

The store is closed, awaiting word on what caused the fire and whether the building is salvageable. The owners, Jeff and Julie Wendt, hope to reopen.

While talk in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley has focused on development in the Point MacKenzie area -- from bringing a ferry to the Mat-Su to building a “bridge to nowhere” across Knik Arm -- the general store, about 25 miles from Wasilla, is one of the few actual pieces of development in the area.

Julie Wendt woke at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday after hearing what she thought were gunshots outside. Instead, she found the fire. Julie managed to escape with her two dogs -- black lab mixes, one of which is blind -- and her cell phone.

The fire burned most of the back wall and into the roof of the two-story structure, according for Central Mat Su Fire Chief James Steele. He said about 15 percent of the structure was burned, although heat, smoke and water damage was much more extensive.

Steele said the department wouldn't know the cause until early next week. Insurance adjusters will have to decide whether or not the building is a loss.

The fire was the fourth structure fire in the Mat-Su this week. One of them burned an historic Matanuska Maid dairy building in Palmer Tuesday.

Wendt and her husband, Jeff, lived in the apartment above the store. While the store was insured, the apartment and all of their belongings were not.

Kit Braden, an organizer of the Knik 200 sled dog race, is asking for donations to the family, including food and clothing. She was able to provide them with dog food and fresh produce Thursday.

Jeff Wendt stood on the porch of the structure Friday afternoon. The Wendts have owned the general store and cafe for six years. They plan to rebuild as soon as they can. He said he was grateful for community support.

“To see that come back in spades yesterday was just great,” he said.

To donate clothing or food, contact Kit Braden at (907) 376-0627 or bbrkit(at)mtaonline.net.