Many Petersburg residents are rallying behind a family left homeless after a Feb. 15 fire destroyed their Scow Bay rental. Donations have poured in and fundraisers have begun.
But not everyone was so nice. Hours after flames gutted the house, looters entered the wreckage and stole firearms and other valuables in a safe.
More than a week after the fire, the blackened shell of the two-story home still stood, but the inside was a pile of rubble on the ground. The blaze was so hot the glass on two large aquariums melted. The barrels of Darcy Mallory’s grandfather’s antique guns hung on bedroom walls with warped barrels. Her son’s home-built computer system was gone.
A week before, Mallory said she had awoken to her partner’s shouts.
“Mike was like ‘Fire! Fire!’ And I jumped up out of bed immediately,” she said.
Mike Olson had fallen asleep on the couch but woke up at about 4:30 a.m. to see flames licking the outsides of the windows. Mallory says he opened a door to let one of their dogs out and smoke billowed in, setting off the smoke detector. But just for a moment.
“It was like, BEEEEP, and then the power went out,” she said.
The smoke detector was hardwired and apparently had no battery backup. She says everything went black and sickeningly quiet. There was an eerie, orange glow from the flames.
She yelled for her son, who was asleep in his bedroom. Then she ran to her own bedroom to grab her phone and a blanket, which she wrapped around her son, 15-year-old Jozef Myrick. By then the flames were about knee-high at the front door.
“It was just so smoky, you could barely breathe, you’re choking on it,” Mallory said. “Jozef was like, ‘I don’t want to go through the flames, Mom.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t care’ and I just shoved him.”
Meanwhile, Olson had been running in and out rescuing their two other dogs.
The whole thing took just over a minute, she says.
“By then as we came down the stairs, the back end of my truck was already in flames, like everything was just gushing up around, it was crazy,” Mallory said.
She had bought the truck new last year.
They stood on the icy road watching their home of six years burn. Mallory was wearing a tropical dress top with shorts. They were barefoot in the cold.
“You’re standing there and you’re on the phone with 911 and it’s just engulfing you’re whole entire house and everything that you own is just being burned up, all your memories … like, everything,” Mallory said. “You lose so much of it, and it was just horrific.”
They were able to get the three dogs outside, but they couldn’t find their cat until 10 minutes later.
“The glass doors shattered and he came barreling out there like a ball of flames, just a ball of flames comes flying through,” said Mallory. “He hit the boat, rolled into the snow, and took off down to the waterside.”
They found their cat later that morning with injuries and flew him to an emergency pet clinic in Anchorage, where he’s recovered.
Almost immediately, people started coming forward to help. Neighbors drew them indoors for warmth. They got a call from a local clothing store that would open early for them to get some donated clothes.
“This community has been so awesome, I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for everybody for everything that they’ve done,” Mallory said. “I don’t even know how to start, and I’m really thankful for the EMS and the PVD or the fire department, the dispatch lady that stayed on the phone with me — she was there listening to me scream, “No! What is going on? Why!?”
But not everyone has been so kind hearted. A fireproof safe had been left behind in the back bedroom. The family says it went missing the night after the fire.
Mallory says they called the police.
“Because there were a couple handguns inside of it, you know, vital records, social security, checkbooks, gems that we had mined when we went to Arkansas three years ago,” she said.
She says she can’t understand why people would steal from those who have already lost so much.
“You can tell that the house is burned down, that we’re trying to salvage stuff and for somebody to walk up and take the safe. . .” said Mallory. “That’s the only bad juju I’ve had throughout all of this. Everything else has been really good juju.”
That’s what she chooses to focus on. Mallory says she fell in love with Alaska when she first visited as an 11-year-old. She grew up in Idaho and as a young adult worked for years in an ammunition factory. Her wrists grew tired of the repetitive movements day after day, so she put an Alaska map on the wall and threw a dart.
“The dart had like little silver and blue ends on it, it was a metal dart,” said Mallory, “and I just pinned the map up and I landed on Kupreanof Island, and the biggest town that was next to it was Petersburg.”
That was 13 years ago. She’s since gotten into a routine of working at a local shipyard, raising her son, volunteering and gardening. She always believed it was fate that brought her to the town of 3,000. She says that after losing her home, she has seen that the gamble has paid off. Her friends have been supporting her through this crisis.
Friends like Debbie Marden who has gotten the family in temporary housing and is coordinating donations.
“I knew that their need would be great, immediately,” Marden said, choking up. “It’s different when you help somebody get to the store and get groceries, but when somebody loses everything that they own, you do what you can do.”
But there are some silver linings.
That night, without really thinking about it, Mallory had shut her bedroom door, and that’s where firefighters would later enter the building. From that room they were able to salvage some vital records and a few totes, which included her grandmother’s homemade afghans.
Olson acted as a human fire alarm only because he had fallen asleep on the couch that night. And he wasn’t injured besides a slightly singed arm.
And then the outpouring from Petersburg’s community.
“It’s really humbling honestly, to have people bringing you all this stuff,” Mallory said. “And you’re just like, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize that I had that many friends in the community and that many people that cared.”
There’s an account set up for donations at First Bank in Petersburg in the family’s name. There are still some items that the family needs, like furniture. One request: wildlife posters for her teenage son’s room.
To donate items, call Debbie at (907) 518-4493 or Andrea at (907) 650-0468. They are also asking for computer parts to help replace the one Myrick had built.