Two Rivers restores community, rebuilding homes and relations

Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 4:27 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - It has been just over a year since Jamison Gallion was arrested for committing arson in the community of Two Rivers. Since his arrest and the final attack in August of 2021, Two Rivers has come together and grown to restore their community.

The work to rebuild what had been lost began shortly after each fire had burned out - each its own project, and each another need for the community to answer the call. “A lot of people gave up a lot of time of their life to help us,” said Ginger McKee, a victim of the arson attacks.

The first attack was at the residence of Barbie Howard in July of 2021. Howard remembers the experience as “overwhelming,” but she also recalls that “over a couple hundred people,” in the community gathered at their property. There were people she knew and others she didn’t, but the community was there and was supporting her and her husband through the tragedy. Fortunately for the Howards, they had insurance on their house but the process was slow. After witnessing the destruction, they knew that a long road of paper work lay ahead of them. Howard explained that for her, the first week was a struggle because the “first thing we [did] is nothing. You smell the smell, you watch it smolder and you pick up the pieces.”

Ginger and Donald McKee were attacked in the following weeks. Losing multiple structures on their property, the McKees suffered emotional and financial damage with all of the other victims. One of the buildings that burned was a work garage that was used for general contracting jobs. Inside that garage the couple lost “[a] million dollars worth of tools and equipment,” according to Ginger McKee, adding “We lost half our income.” Unlike the Howards, the McKees did not have insurance for their property. Knowing that, the community came out to help. “Within two weeks our neighbors, our friends, our family showed up everyday,” McKee said. Approximately 30 people came out to help the couple rebuild, and they didn’t stop until the new home had roof that was ready for the incoming winter.

But rebuilding has not been without struggle for any of the victims. While putting together their new home, McKee said they often found themselves looking for tools and saying, “Well, we don’t have that anymore.” That sentiment was also shared by Howard and Wayne Shea, another victim of the attacks. As McKee put it, “some of it can be replaced, most of it cannot.”

There were also psychological struggles to face. “We never left the home, only one left at a time,” said Howard Shea, who still keeps all the supplies she brought with her after the fire in her car. She says she “learned to carry.”

Unfortunately for all of the victims, community resources were also stripped away in another attack. “One of the things that was hard was that we lost our free store,” said Shea. “That would’ve been perfect for our fire victims.” The free store was a community facility where residents could donate items and take items from for no cost. That resource was burned to the ground.

Then the community center was attacked, hurting the entire community of Two Rivers. “It was a place to go. You know, just if you needed to cook a meal or whatever it would’ve been great,” Howard Shea said. Wayne Shea, the president of the Pleasant Valley Community Association said, “you have to work in a building that’s been burnt to understand the psychological draw that it puts on you.” Wayne Shea is also the primary caretaker for the community center. He struggled to rebuild the center due to the psychological distress.

As for the community center, Gallion may have started several fires, but all the damage done has led the residents to rally together and improve as a community. Just one part of that includes the various upgrades made to the center including a new HRV system, new security system, and upgrades to the kitchen.

Shea believes the experience has been unifying for the community, and according to McKee, “the community started pulling together tighter, tighter, and tighter.” McKee added that events in the community have grown to see “huge” turnouts. Shea commented on the utilization of the community center, noting an uptick in voter participation, group use, classes and more.

The non-profit organization “Two Rivers Strong” was also founded in the wake of destruction. They have been working to rebuild the community as well and generate funds for the victims.

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