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Brother of woman who died in Anchorage house fire remembers her strength

Johnny Hammons Jr., of Wasilla, holds a photograph of himself with his sister Amanda Hammons, who died in an Anchorage house fire in July. Photographed August 8, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

On the last night of her life, Amanda Hammons was celebrating.

Mandy, as her family called her, spent the evening at her boyfriend’s home near Campbell Park, said her brother, Johnny. The couple worked for the same construction company, and they had dedicated that night to celebrating a big job they’d just gotten paid for, he said.

“He told me that he got great big steaks for dinner,” Johnny Hammons said. “They just went all out and had a great time."

His voice broke. "He got her a really pretty dress and she wore it.”

Then, early the next morning, the unthinkable happened. Smartphones in the Campbell Park neighborhood captured a plume of smoke rising above the trees. When firefighters arrived at the Tudortop Circle home around 3:25 a.m., the roof and deck were engulfed in flames.

Investigators with the Anchorage Fire Department later determined someone in the home hadn’t properly disposed of a cigarette. Hammons didn’t make it out.

Amanda ’Mandy ’ Hammons, 32, died in an Anchorage house fire on July 18, 2019. (Facebook)

For her younger brother, the loss was a deeply cutting one — the two had been together “through thick and thin,” he said. They’d spent their childhoods together exploring the outdoors near their Palmer home, and he’d supported her through hardships he said “no one should have to go through.”

The fatal fire, he said, was the second Hammons had been through. She had only just managed to rebuild her life after a trailer fire in Sitka several years before. She was supposed to start studying soon at the University of Alaska Anchorage to become a dental assistant.

“She was so tough,” he said. “Life kept throwing stuff at her, and it would bring her down for a little bit, and then she would just tough it out and get through. She never complained.”

Hammons, a mother of two, was at work the first time the home she was staying in caught fire. She came home to find everything she owned destroyed, her brother said. With no place else to live, her two young sons went to stay with their fathers elsewhere in Sitka.

Johnny Hammons Jr., of Wasilla, is the brother of Amanda Hammons, who died in an Anchorage house fire in July. Photographed August 8, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

What followed was four or five years of silence. Johnny Hammons said he isn’t clear on what happened to his sister during that time. She was in and out of homelessness, he said, and at some point, she hitchhiked to Fairbanks to have dental work done.

“That was her inspiration to become a dental assistant, seeing all the people who helped her,” he said.

When she resurfaced, it was with a determination to pull her life back together. The construction job she was celebrating the night she died was only the most recent in a string of triumphs, her brother said. She’d managed to find stable housing and had recently reconnected with their mother, from whom she’d been estranged for years.

She loved her job, Alaska and her friends, Johnny Hammons said — he remembered her as the “mom” of her friend group, the one who was always trying to take care of everyone else.

“She was amazing, she was positive, she was radiant, she was always getting up when she got knocked down," he said. “Never gave up.”

Above all, though, she loved her sons, he said. The boys, aged 13 and 11, haven’t lived with their mother since the trailer fire, but he said she thought about them constantly.

“She had her kids on her mind every single day, all the time, no matter how long it had been since she’d talked to them," he said.

Johnny Hammons wasn’t clear on how his nephews were dealing with the loss of their mother, but he and Mandy also lost a parent at a young age — their father — and he said he knows what it’s like to wonder about that missing half.

“When they’re ready to ask, we’ll be there.”

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