Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Marty Rogers and Michael Hatfield debrief after getting off their 24-hour-plus shift setting up the unmanned drones that will use unfrared radiation imaging to detect hotspots in the Funny River Fire, Thursday, May 29, at Kenai Peninsula College.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Marty Rogers and Michael Hatfield debrief after getting off their 24-hour-plus shift setting up the unmanned drones that will use unfrared radiation imaging to detect hotspots in the Funny River Fire, Thursday, May 29, at Kenai Peninsula College.

More than a place to sleep

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Thursday, May 29, 2014 9:45pm
  • News

A group of residents at the Kenai Peninsula College Residence Hall having been staying out all night and coming back long after dawn, while their neighbors are still sound asleep.

The temporary tenants are Division of Forestry firefighters combating the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on the night shift.

The firefighters were originally set up in tents on the lawn outside the incident command center at Skyview High School, but the area’s bustling daytime activities made sleeping a challenge, said Associate Director of Residence Life Tammie Willis.

“It is a tradition for residence halls to open their doors to firefighters,” Willis said. The student staff has been working in overdrive to accommodate the influx of occupants, she said.

“I didn’t get a lot of sleep honestly,” said Resident Advisor Joshuah Rutten, who worked the weekend shift at the front desk. The excitement is worth it, he said.

Rutten said he has never been in charge of something of something of this scope, that affects the community. He said he couldn’t have done it without co-workers like Sean McBride who jumped in to clean and set up the beds for 44 rooms. For some of those rooms, the college had just a few hours of notice.

Willis said it has also been an opportunity to show the students how they can use their resources to take care of the community. In this case it is supplying a place to sleep for those in need, she said.

The firefighters have been taking advantage of free laundry service and open gym at the hall in their down time, Willis said. They’ve been incredibly gracious and thankful to exchange the hard ground for soft beds, she said.

Rooms were also made available for evacuees when the order went into affect Sunday, Willis said.

Kenai River Campus Veterans Services Coordinator John Pollock moved his wife, two daughters and Australian shepherd into the residence hall after he and his daughter saw flames flickering over the treetops near their home.

Pollock stayed on their property overnight to protect it from rogue embers, until the official evacuation order went out Sunday. Pollock said it gave him great peace of mind knowing his family was safe and taken care of by the staff.

Also rooming at the hall is a group from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Marty Rogers, director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft, and a team from the UAF spent 24-plus hours setting up the launching point for unmanned aircraft that will be used daily to locate hotspots in the fire, making it easier to determine where to focus efforts.

Doors on the main campus are also open to other organizations working on the wildfire, KPC Director Gary Turner said. The National Interagency Buying Team led by Jackie Robinson is set up in classroom 123.

Robinson said her team is sent around the country to offer support to incidents, such as natural disasters, by working with local administrations to procure supplies, services and help with renting land and equipment.

The team often becomes emotionally invested, Robinson said. Each member works between 12-to-15-hour shifts each day for two straight weeks, she said.

For Robinson and all but one of her co-workers, it is their first time in Alaska. She said they agreed the Kenai Peninsula is a gorgeous area.

“Our hearts go out to the community,” Robinson said.

Kelly Sullivan can be reached at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com

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