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Survivors of House Fire Say Lost Loved One Was Confused

Published On: Nov 19 2013 08:34:03 PM AKST

(KTUU-TV, 11-19-13)


The day after a deadly house fire in Chugiak, more is known about the victim and how the fire turned destructive when everyone had initially made it out safe.

On Tuesday, a boyfriend and cousin of the victim are still struggling to find the ground beneath their feet after losing their home and someone they loved very much.

On Monday, Chugiak Firefighters received an early morning call for a house fire off of Birchwood Loop. The three people inside apparently made it out safely, but for some reason one of them went back inside.

The cause of the fire is believed to be a kerosene heater installed in the bathroom a month ago.

Russell Waits, the boyfriend of the victim, and Rachel Merculief, a cousin, indentified Zenia Feenstra Steptin as the person who died in the fire.

Neither could say why she went back into the burning building, but say she had a mental condition which affected her memory.

“She's standing outside and she's probably thinking are the kids out,” said Waits. “I'm sure that's why she ran back in. Nobody knows but her.”

His arms and face show blisters and signs of serious burns. He says he has no plans to rebuild the home he owned.

Fire crews also faced challenging conditions while fighting the blaze and ultimately the home was a loss.

“The volunteer fire department says there were a number of obstacles for them and in the yard; was clutter a problem in the home,” said Waits. “Ya, I'm a hoarder; I'm a self proclaimed hoarder.”

The Red Cross is helping the two survivors and both are being sheltered in Anchorage.