CASWELL — Of the devastation wrought by the McKinley Fire that started on Aug. 17, perhaps the worst of the destruction happened to the Nott family.
Paul Nott and seven of his eight sons lived in five structures on the property, all of which are now gone. Dozens of vehicles ranging from plow trucks to four wheelers to skid steers and the daily drivers for the Nott boys were mostly all burned during the fire that reached their property at Mile 86.5 of the Parks Highway on Sunday.
Paul’s son Aaron had climbed up onto the roof of the one home that had rolled roofing and began to spray it down when Paul saw the flames encroaching.
“Get down, let’s go. It’s too big you can’t stop that. It was a big rolling flame, that’s not a forest fire,” said Paul Nott. “When we seen that fire it was a monster.”
The Nott family had moved to Caswell in 2009, after living in the Mat-Su Valley for 20 years prior. When Paul and his sons moved onto the property, it was nothing more than a trail to the railroad. Over 10 years, the Nott family built a complex that they could live on and prepare for disasters. First, Paul got a small 8-by-40 trailer onto the property, then added another 12-by-60 trailer and another 14-by-70 trailer before building a 12-by-14 cabin and adding a 16-by-44 addition to the main house. In total, five structures had members of the Nott family living in them prior to the McKinley Fire.
“We had zero warning that anything was coming. It was literally the last update I had was the fire was being held at 91 and we’re 86.5 and then 10 minutes later our place was burning as we were leaving,” said Jared Nott. “The structure is nothing compared to the stuff we had.”
Following the blaze on Aug. 18, the Nott family has been living with their brother in Wasilla, cramming eight sons, Paul and his wife, a dog and five cats into one trailer. Through the generous donations of members of the community, the Notts have had three trailers donated, but only one that is suitable for living. The Nott family is asking that donations be directed to their GoFundMe page. (https://www.gofundme.com/f/mckinley-fire-willow-alaska)
The devastation left on the nearly six acres of property is unsettling. A melted trash can sits near the front of the property, separating what used to be the driveway in front of the main house with the extensive garden. A lawnmower that was positioned directly in front of the house sits unscathed, except for a small amount of melting on the bag. The Nott family did not only lose the homes in which they live, but the possessions they had been stockpiling in the event of a natural disaster. The Nott’s had connex containers full of stored food, guns, and ammunition. As they fled their property and a wall of flames that was barreling towards them on Sunday, they had hoped that some of the goods they had stockpiled would remain safe inside of the metal connexes.
“It looks like a bomb exploded in there,” said Jared Nott.
With eight sons, seven of whom lived on the property and prepped with their parents, the Nott property is littered with more than two-dozen vehicles, most of which have burned to the ground. Despite common misconception, Jared says that all of the vehicles they had on their property ran before the fire.
“There’s a lot of carcasses around,” said Jared Nott.
Paul Nott moved to Alaska in 1977, and moved up to their current property in 2009. While Paul is thankful for the donations and help from community that they have received, they are also wary of misinformation. Paul’s home had no insurance on it, and he remains uncertain about what Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) relief may be available to them, as he believes that the disaster declaration only covers the cost of fighting the fire. In preparation for wildfire season, Nott and his sons removed all of the bark beetle kill spruce around the property in 2018, including a large swath of trees next to their closest neighbor’s house, which Nott believes helped save their structure during the fire.
“Wasilla Community Church has been a big help. They replaced a lot of our stuff that we lost, clothes and coats so that’s been a big help,” said Paul Nott.
While Nott is saddened at the loss of the homes that he and his sons inhabited, he is distraught at the decade of work in stockpiling supplies that are all now in a pile of ash.
“We were ready for anything, except for this. We thought we were in good shape but now we’re not,” said Paul Nott.
Paul and his sons are working toward whatever the future of their property may be. The Notts need to clear the property of debris, but have no way to haul the debris to the landfill. The family hopes to stay in trailers on the property and work through clearing the debris until winter. While the Nott family has lost most everything they worked a decade to acquire, they are not without hope.
“Yesterday we were here and I said forget it, I’m done,” said Paul as he became emotional talking about his family’s property. “There’s always hope.”
The Notts have received meals from the Red Cross and neighbors, and were donated gas cards and WalMart cards, but still remain uncertain as to how they are going to move forward with clearing their burned former homes away from the property.
“The thing is is that was all on purpose. We had connexes with food and we had guns and ammo and we were kind of prepping and we were all staying close on purpose so the amount of stuff that we lost was way beyond just like a trailer that burned down,” said Jared Nott.
Out of the ashes did come one positive. The Notts brought five cats and a dog with them to Wasilla, but were still missing two of the kittens.
“We just left and about a week later, one of the firefighters took one of the cats to the neighbors. So we found one that was all burnt and the paws and the whiskers are gone and we treated her up and she’s doing really good now,” said Jared Nott.