Fire victim recovering in Kansas

A Homer man injured in a Diamond Ridge house fire on Oct. 29 has been released from a Seattle hospital and is recovering at the home of his son in Kansas.

According to Melinda Taylor, a neighbor and friend of Keith Kohler, the man who lost his home at the corner of Diamond Ridge Road and Stratus Road, Kohler, 88, got out of the hospital on Sunday.

“He’ll be fine,” Taylor said.

Kohler’s cat, Miss Tina, also has been found and is safe, Taylor said. Miss Tina was known to have escaped the fire, but disappeared afterwards.

“I was thrilled when all the things calmed down I was able to call her,” Taylor said.

Taylor said she is making arrangements to have the cat shipped to Kohler in Kansas.

Kohler lost his home in a fire that started about 9 a.m. last Wednesday. Firefighters from KES, Homer Volunteer Fire Department and Anchor Point Fire responded. KES Fire Chief Bob Cicciarella said an ambulance and crew were the first responders. 

“They did an unbelievable job of responding there,” Cicciarella said.

Chad Jones, a neighbor on Belnap Drive across Diamond Ridge from Kohler’s home, helped Kohler get out of his house. Kohler had been standing in the door of his house trying to get his cat while the fire whipped up.

“You couldn’t get near the front door. I don’t know how he could stand it,” Jones said.

Jones said he called to Kohler, Kohler came to him and he grabbed him and had to keep him from going back into the house. Kohler called for his cat and Miss Tina came flying out, Jones said.

According to an investigation by Alaska State Troopers, the fire started when Kohler used gasoline to try to start a fire in a wood stove. Cicciarella said KES has not completed its investigation.

“The indication of how fast, how rapidly it burned in the area around the stove would indicate that was a possibility,” Cicciarella said.

The $160,000 house was a total loss, Cicciarella said. Firefighters were able to recover a fire safe and a coin collection. Taylor said she also recovered some family photos and other possessions.

Firefighters refilled pumper-tanker engines from a tank buried at the corner of Diamond Ridge and the Sterling Highway. KES also has fire engines and an ambulance at a shed near Alaska Hardy gardens at the top of Baycrest Hill just past the Homer Waste Transfer Station. A new fire station is nearing completion about a mile from Kohler’s home on Diamond Ridge Road.

“We hope to move into that Diamond Ridge station soon, that’s for sure,” Cicciarella said. “We’ve had a couple of fires now we wish we had that fire station up and running. We can’t wait to get into it.”

Cicciarella said the station should be dedicated sometime later this month.

Taylor said Kohler is a World War II U.S. Navy veteran who first saw Kachemak Bay during the war. Among the items salvaged from the fire are his military dog tags, she said. Kohler’s home used to be run as a bed and breakfast, and he has a small cabin on the property that escaped damage. Firefighters and neighbors also managed to save vehicles.

Taylor said she’s seeking help from anyone with a backhoe or heavy equipment to fill in the basement hole left in the fire. Anyone willing to help can call her at 235-3299.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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