Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct discrepencies between eyewitness accounts of events at 1213 Lilac Lane after an earthquake on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that the home at 1211 Lilac Lane is rented from Mike and Sylvia Dale.
Vincent Calderon and Carrie Gaethle had just gotten their two children back to bed after being shaken awake by a 7.1 magnitude tremor that rocked the Kenai Peninsula Sunday morning when the house they were staying in exploded into a mass of blue flames.
“As soon as we got the kids back to sleep, probably about 15, 20 minutes after the earthquake … it felt like we came a foot off the ground,” Calderon said. “The back wall flew off the house, the floors blew off.”
Calderon said he grabbed Gaethle and the kids, and told them to go across the street.
“My son was in his shorts, and the police gave him some pants,” Gaethle said.
“I was just in boxers and a T-shirt,” Calderon added.
The house the couple was living in on Lilac Lane in Kenai was the first of two that were destroyed by gas explosions and one of four that ended up being burnt to the ground following the earthquake and a gas leak in the area. Along with residents from all of Lilac Lane, Cook Inlet View Drive and Wells Way, they were evacuated to a shelter set up in the Kenai National Guard Armory by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management.
Calderon said he ran back for the keys to their truck and moved it out of harm’s way, but that their roommate who rents the house, Briana Hoge, lost her vehicle in the blast. By the time he got his family across the street, Kenai police officers were there evacuating the rest of the houses, he said.
Gaethle said her 3-year-old daughter, Ayla, and her 11-year-old son, Andrew, are safe at their grandpa’s house, but were “devastated” to have lost everything in the home.
Gaethle recently had an ostomy put in, and though Calderon was able to grab her bag of medications when first responders escorted him back into the house before a second house on the block exploded, she is in need of additional health care services.
Jason Antebi was in the second home, at 1211 Lilac Lane, which his family rents from Mike and Sylvia Dale. Antebi, his fiancee and her children were evacuated to the shelter at the armory before anything happened to their home, he said.
“Actually my fiancee … and myself went outside, and we could smell gas and we saw the house … our next door neighbor, it was on fire,” Antebi said.
It wasn’t until someone came to the armory around 8 a.m. and showed him a picture of the house engulfed in flames that Antebi knew for sure what was going on, he said.
“It was like a big shock,” he said. “When we left there really didn’t seem like there was anything major going on.”
His family made it out with no injuries, but Antebi said their pets were still in the home when they were evacuated.
“I’m worried that we lost our animals,” he said. “I’m appreciative of a lot of the people at Walmart. They had brought water, blankets, you know, all sorts of different things, you know, to make this more comfortable.”
Members of the American Red Cross from the Mat-Su valley took control of managing the shelter on Sunday afternoon. Office of Emergency Management Director Scott Walden said those who have lost their homes will be able to work with the Red Cross to figure out temporary and long-term housing solutions.
“We’ve been in touch with the state Emergency Operations Center since the first minute of the earthquake, and that was one of the things we initiated immediately was to have Red Cross come down to help with sheltering,” Walden said. “They don’t have a great presence on the peninsula right now but they’re really good about coming down from that far.”
The armory was set up with cots, a television for the children, several tables with food and a stack of boxes with clothes and other donations. Several local businesses including Walmart, McDonald’s and Kaladi Brothers Coffee in Soldotna, Fred Meyer and Safeway donated everything from food to blankets for the evacuated families. Many were still not allowed back to their homes by late Sunday afternoon, as Enstar Natural Gas Co. employees were still out using machines to dig down to gas lines and check to make sure there were no additional leaks in the area.
Reach Megan Pacer at email@example.com.