Mat-Su

All residents evacuated as fire breaks out in Wasilla assisted-living home

WASILLA -- Employees at an assisted-living center near Wasilla evacuated all 16 residents without injury after a fire broke out on the second floor, authorities say.

Trucks, ambulances and firefighters from Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Palmer stations descended on Northern Comfort Assisted Living on North Lagoon Drive off Bogard Road after the fire was reported just after 2:30 p.m. Monday.

By then, an employee working on the second floor had already alerted everyone after she smelled smoke, according to Cammeron Edwards, the center's meals and medication manager. There were 16 residents inside, mostly elderly -- including a 97-year-old -- and nearly all unable to walk.

Edwards and five other employees managed to get all the residents into wheelchairs or walkers and out of the building safely, she said. "We drill for this."

They ended up across the road in the driveway of Luis and Wrynn Nieves.

Luis Nieves, a sergeant and recruiter with the Alaska State Troopers, looked out his kitchen window to see flames engulfing the second floor. Then he saw all the people outside -- in the 16-degree cold with a stiff breeze adding more chill to the air.

"A lot of those people are convalescing, you have people on oxygen," Nieves said. "They were in my driveway. I'm like, 'Are you kidding me? Get inside!'"

Everyone ended up in the garage. Nieves cranked the heat up to 80 degrees and brought out blankets. His wife rushed home from her job teaching art at Wasilla High School and made tea.

Soon, everyone was comfortable.

"It was not as bad as it could have been, for sure," Wrynn Nieves said.

By about 3 p.m., smoke still poured from a second-story porch but no fire was visible. Around 4 p.m., a Valley Mover bus had arrived to take residents to various safe locations. Edwards said the center contacted care providers to make sure residents had medications and other urgent needs provided.

"I'm actually very impressed by that staff," Luis Nieves said. "They were able to get those people out immediately."

The building has sprinklers and fire alarms, borough emergency manager Casey Cook said. It looked like the sprinklers helped save at least part of the building's interiors.

By just before 6 p.m., the state's Adult Protective Services Division was finding places for the residents to go, Cook said. Options included individual care providers and local hotels arranged through the American Red Cross of Alaska.

The fire's cause remained under investigation late Monday.

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

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