Bethel man saves daughter from fast-moving house fire

A burned-out home stands between two smaller structures on a snowy, tundra landscape
Earl Polk’s family home. (Photo by Gabby Salgado/KYUK)

On March 14 in Bethel, a fire burned a family’s house near H-Marker Lake. There were no fatalities and only minor injuries.

Earl Polk had just finished lighting his wood stove and stacked a load of wet wood close to the stove to dry. He was settling in for the night and getting ready to put his daughter to bed.

“I went to go to the bathroom, and was in there less than a minute, and I heard a weird noise,” said Polk. “Then I turned and looked, and my daughter was coming out [of the room].”

Polk said that he saw flames moving through the air, quickly spreading throughout his home.

“It moved so fast. To me it looked like it was alive,” Polk said about the fire. “I was totally awestruck. The thing looked to me like it was literally alive. It looked like it was almost trying to take us, but push us out.”

As the flames consumed his house, Polk and his daughter moved quickly. The extreme heat of the fire caused the light bulbs above their heads to explode.

“And one of them burned into the back of my head and melted into my hoodie,” he said.

He grabbed his daughter and started running toward the door, carrying her. The heat was so intense, he had to crouch down and crawl on the floor with her. He felt two hot blasts of air and heard propane bottles exploding around him. He was unable to gather any belongings as he rushed to vacate the house.

I would say in less than two minutes the whole place was engulfed,” Polk said.

Polk and his daughter escaped with few injuries. Polk suffered from burns on his hands and his daughter, who has Down Syndrome, had a minor burn on her head and some emotional trauma.

“I have to keep things at an even keel for her. This whole thing had her just really messed up there for a while. But she’s okay. She’s emotionally coming back to Earth,” said Polk.

Polk and his daughter were not dressed for the below-freezing weather outside. Polk said that he’s thankful to a man in a white Ford F-150 truck who let his daughter stay warm inside the man’s heated cab. Polk waited outside for emergency responders to arrive.

Polk is trying to find this man with the truck. Polk wants to personally thank him, and Polk believes that he lost the keys to his four-wheeler inside the truck. The four-wheeler is Polk’s only transportation, and is now one of his few possessions.

“Everything. We lost everything. They’re all gone. My clothes are all gone. My phones, everything. Literally everything was lost in the flames. So we’re in a rough spot right now. But, you know, but at the same time, very thankful that we got out,” Polk said.

Polk and his daughter are staying at his brother Warren’s house. Warren lost his home in a house fire nearly three years ago.

“And so this is our second family involved in fire,” said Polk. “And right now, I’m, you know, I’m trying to figure out what I got to do next.”

KYUK - Bethel

KYUK is our partner station in Bethel. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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