The 7,220-acre Sockeye wildfire in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough near Willow destroyed 55 Alaska homes. Forty-four other properties sustained major damage to structures like greenhouses, sheds, and outhouses (InciWeb). Heavy equipment operators continue to heap twisted steel roofing, appliances, and other house debris into piles. For many, the rubble is wistful remains of their hard-won Alaskan lifestyles.
On our drive along the Parks Highway we noticed a sooty wall tent squatting forlornly where one house had been burnt clean off its foundation. Though weeks now separate Willow-area residents from the terrors of the Sockeye wildfire, a sense of gratitude diffused the foul tang of burnt timber. Spray-painted plywood signs along the highway read: “Firefighters, We Love You!!!”
Strangely, the wanton flames circumnavigated some yards and houses – but more often, courageous firemen and women saved structures by setting backfires and cutting brush and trees around the perimeters.
On either side of the Parks Highway countless spruce trees now parade like weary soldiers topped with charcoal busbies. Thousands upon thousands of blackened stalks wave black tussocks in the fetid winds. Evacuees have returned to assess damages or rebuild, amid worries that covert embers still hide underground in root beds and might flare up into a fresh blaze.