Story last updated at 1:53 p.m. Thursday, March 18, 2004

Kilcher cabin burns to ground
BY CARLY BOSSERT
Staff Writer

photo: news

  Photo by Carly Bossert, Homer News
Just a heap of ashes and debree was all that was left of the Kilcher cabin after the fire on January 30.  
On a California stopover between Homer and New Zealand in early February, Stellavera Kilcher and Dennis Anderson were startled out of sleep by a fire alarm in their room.

Being awakened by a strange siren in unfamiliar surroundings made Anderson realize just how differently things could have gone Jan. 30.

"I went, 'My God. I can understand why people burn up,'" Anderson said. "(You) can't figure out where you are, where to go. I felt so grateful that, you know that, my ticket didn't get punched and hers didn't either."

As it turned out, the alarm was false. There was no fire.

It was a different story, though, at Stellavera's cabin on the Kilcher homestead Jan. 30. While there was no alarm and, for that matter, no one to hear it, the fire was very real.

"They saw it from the Spit," said Anderson, Stellavera's closest friend and former boyfriend. "It was such an intense fire. It was the time of day that it happened. Nobody around to notice it. It was a torch."

Stellavera's sister later told her she saw the glow on the horizon and thought it was the northern lights.

When Stellavera spoke with her brother Otto Kilcher, he told her, "The flames went higher than the stars. Just the sound of jet planes taking off."

"My first thought, I thought he was playing a joke on me Then it was my baby, my baby. My baby burned," said Stellavera from New Zealand Monday.

Anderson had delivered Stellavera to the Homer airport earlier on the afternoon of Jan. 30 for the first leg of a several month trip to visit friends in New Zealand.

Then sometime around midnight, he got a call from Otto.

Someone else, seeing the flames and thinking it might be Otto's place, had directed his attention to the fire licking at Stellavera's unoccupied cabin.

"He knew there was only one place below him," Anderson said. "He knew it was Stellavera's house and he called me."

By the time Anderson arrived, about 1 a.m., the house had been reduced to coals and cinders.

Some volunteer fire fighters responded, but terrain kept them from bringing in an engine. Her cabin, off the grid system at 10 miles East End Road, was beyond Kachemak Emergency Service Area accessibility.

At some point in the year, particularly winter, access to the cabin, which lies on 5 acres of the Kilcher 600-acre homestead, is limited.

"She wasn't able to even have any insurance," Anderson said. "Because the trucks can't get in there."

By the time anyone noticed the fire, it had engulfed the 18- by 20 cabin and its outlying buildings, and Anderson doubts a fire truck would have been able to save much.

"It was a bunch of coals. It was unbelievable," he said. "Her whole life was in that cabin. So she's starting over."

Stellavera was in Anchorage waiting for a flight to California when she got word of the fire through a phone message from her sister in Germany.

She decided to go ahead with her travel plans instead of returning to the rubble of her cabin.

"There wasn't anything that could be done at that point," Stellavera said. "I just thought, 'Move forward with my plans,' and it would be a way to help with the grieving better ... Going back would be too much of a shock. It has helped. There's no way I could go and look at the ashes right now."

Although she did have a suitcase of clothes and all of her important traveling documents, everything in Stellavera's life was in the cabin.

"Right now, there's a feeling (that) I have nothing to come back to. There's an empty feeling," she said.

Her return ticket is for June, but after the fire, that date is tentative.

"I don't have a plan. I'm just still in shock. I'm just going day by day," Stellavera said. "At first I couldn't sleep. I was throwing up the whole first day."

At first, she said, she felt that more than losing her house, she had lost her dream of building a children's camp on her 5-acre parcel.

"Somebody pointed out to me that the dream cannot burn," Stellavera said. "What has not burned is the dream, is the vision of the whole reason I had built there. To carry on this dream of my uncle and my father's to give people the dream of the wilderness."

In the five years since Stellavera moved permanently to Homer she started construction in 1990 she had been fine tuning her cabin, adding finishing touches and building a stockpile of camp gear.

She calls the area Miracle Meadow.

Ultimately she wanted to create a camp for children primarily low income who wanted to experience Alaska wilderness.

"That's what my great sorrow was, everything that I had built and everything that I had bought for this purpose had burned," Stellavera said. "It's not about losing my personal home. It's not about that."

Knowing that others in Homer are behind this vision and will help bring it back to a reality, she said, would help make a homecoming possible.

"I want to come back and I would like to still pursue this intention I have had all along," she said. "I think it would take some show of support. Not just physical, some moral support. That is this is something that people in the community want, to have this. That there is something more, it isn't just little ole me. That I get some confirmation from people."

To help Stellavera, donations can be made to the Kilcher Fire Fund at Wells Fargo, account no. 9065597347, or words of support can be sent to stellaverak@hotmail.com. For more information, call Dennis Anderson at 235-7896.

Carly Bossert can be reached at carly.bossert@homernews.com.

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