Couple hurt in fire but pets escape from large blaze
An early morning fire gutted the Alpine Woods home of Dan and Joan Heikens, just after midnight, Monday. The fire was believed to have been started by a barbeque left smoldering on the back porch. The house and contents were destroyed.
Both Heikens were hospitalized for treatment of smoke inhalation and burns.
Dan Heikens spoke to the Valdez Star from his room at Providence Valdez Medical Center where he was receiving treatment.
“We had barbequed several hours before,” he said. “I’m assuming that’s what started it.”
While he says memory is of a large blur, he does remember awaking from a dead sleep and seeing something wrong.
“I saw something on the porch, it was just flames,” he said. “I opened the door and tried to put it out.”
That may have fed fuel to the fire, and the two escaped without shoes. Two family dogs also made the escape, and three permanent foster dogs and a friend’s dog were uninjured. The couple drove to a nearby house to report the fire. It took only 11 minutes for fire fighters to respond.
“We got there at 12:53 a.m.,” George Keeney, Valdez fire chief, said. The fire had spread not only to the main house, but sparks spread from the high winds in the area, and a number of trees surrounding the property had begun to catch fire. “It was totally involved – even the grass and trees.”
The couple escaped without shoes, but the family’s extensive number of pets – except for an aquarium – were rescued.
“All the dogs are okay,” close friend Susan Gilpatrick said.
“With that wind it was a big battle,” Keeney said. “We were lucky to keep it down to that one building.”
Very little else is salvageable from the Wilderness Lane home according to friends and family.
“All my mom could do is grab a jacket and go,” Tina Yandell, Joan’s daughter, said from her home in Oklahoma. “They had some burns and smoke inhalation. Everything is a total loss.”
Friends in Valdez agreed.
“Everything’s gone,” Gilpatrick said. “It’s like it was vaporized.”
As of Tuesday morning, neither Dan, who was still hospitalized, nor Joan had been able to return to see what was left of their home.
“The place wasn’t a house,” Gilpatrick said. “It was like a museum of their life.”
Fortunately, friends and neighbors began mobilizing to help the couple before the fire was out.
Gilpatrick says she has an empty connex where donations of household goods can be stored until the couple begins setting up house again, and the Valdez Animal Shelter is being used as a drop-off site for household items.
A special account has been setup for the couple at Wells Fargo Bank.
Gilpatrick said a fundraiser is also in the works.
“I’m sure sad for them,” Keeney said. “for losing their house.”
Heikens took it philosophically and said at this point, they are hoping to rebuild this coming spring.
“We’re doing real well,” he said from his hospital bed. “We lost a lot of stuff, but not the most important things.”
Meaning the loss of life. He said he is also grateful for the help and support from the Valdez community.
While Joan Heikens was out trying to replace her drivers license and putting the pieces of their lives back together, Dan said he found out one prized procession did survive the fire.
“I’ve got to commend the fire department,” he said. “They got my Harley out.”
Monetary donations can be made at any Wells Fargo location and material goods can be dropped off at the Valdez Animal Shelter.