Funny River Fire Brings Community Together

Hooligan’s  Lodging became one of Soldotna’s main hubs during the evacuation. Though most evacuees have returned home, the hotel is ready in case the fire moves toward the community again.

fire photo 1

The lobby of Hooligan’s Lodging and Saloon looks more like a garage sale than a hotel:

“We have like toothpaste and toothbrushes and shampoo and conditioner and lotion and soap.”

The hotel’s owner, Molly Poland, walks through the piles of things donated by community members. They’re for the people who were evacuated because of the Funny River Fire.

“So we have cat litter because there were lots of cats and they didn’t remember the cat litter, so I was like, “let’s get that handled.”

130 people and 30 animals stayed at the long wooden hotel over the weekend for free. Poland says she turned away paying customers because she just wanted to help.

“I didn’t expect for people to be so grateful… but one lady looked at me yesterday and said, ‘you’re going straight to heaven,’ and that made me tear up. And this morning when I went to my car and it was raining I started crying, and I was like, ‘why am I crying over rain?’ But I was just so happy because I know all these people are displaced and they want their homes.”

Other businesses and community members chipped in as well. People opened up their homes, offered free childcare, boarded dogs in kennels for free, gave away pet food—the list goes on.

Odie’s Deli was one of the restaurants that offered discounted and free food to evacuees and fire fighters. Owner Melody Symington says she just wanted to give back:

“I’m truly amazed by the outpouring of this community it’s just amazing how they’ve all pulled together and people just giving their own money and their own resources.”

fire photo 2Back at Hooligan’s, the evacuees have gone home but the work continues. April Fulk is scrubbing the floors of one of the hotel rooms to rid the place of dog smells.

“My mom always had me on the floor cleaning with my hands, so that’s what I’ve done.”

She says she’s volunteering to clean because Soldotna is her home. She says the fire has brought people together in a way she’s never seen.

“Wow. An amazing amount of support, encouragement, wisdom was shared. Everybody just came together. It was just amazing actually.”

Fulk says the community is trying to share another message as well.

“Thanks to all the fire fighters, the crew in the air. Just, thank you. It seems like that’s not enough to say, but I guess as long as we keep pulling together we can show them our gratitude.”

Hooligan’s owner Poland says she knows they aren’t out of danger yet. She says they’re holding on to the items people have donated until the fire is far away from the community.






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After being told innumerable times that maybe she asked too many questions, Anne Hillman decided to pursue a career in journalism. She's reported from around Alaska since 2007 and briefly worked as a community radio journalism trainer in rural South Sudan. ahillman (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8447  |  About Anne

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