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Family members identify fire victims and set up a GoFundMe for funeral expenses

The fire burning at AVCP Townhouses at 4:22 AM.
Galen Frank
The fire burning at the AVCP Townhouses at 4:22 a.m. on Aug. 12.

The three people who died in the fire at Bethel’s Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority (AVCP RHA) townhouses on Aug. 12 have been identified by family members. They are Elder Sophie Engebreth, 15-year-old Melissa Engebreth, and 13-year-old Brianna Engebreth. Melissa and Brianna were Sophie’s granddaughters by birth and daughters by adoption.

The fire started around 4 a.m. on Aug. 12, according to Bethel Fire Chief Daron Solesbee. According to court documents, the fire was likely started by arson. Police have arrested one suspect in connection with the fire.

Another family member, Christopher Engebreth, was also in the apartment and escaped by jumping out the second-story window. He is the grandmother’s son and the granddaughters’ uncle.

Neighbors described the family as kind neighbors. Next-door tenant Michaela Mike said that Sophie always treated her well.

“Sophie was such a genuine, sweet, kind, gentle soul. She was always very nice,” said Mike.

A neighbor the same age as Melissa said that they were best friends for years. She said that the two shared a best friends necklace. She had the friends side, and Melissa had the best side. She described her as being a good friend to all and helpful to her grandmother, who was disabled.

The Engebreth family has started a GoFundMe for funeral-related expenses.

Five additional people were taken to the hospital with injuries, according to the Solesbee. Most people evacuated from the nearby units when they smelled smoke. In total, six units were impacted by the fire. In one of those apartments, tenant Mike said that she got out in the nick of time.

“My mom yelled, saying, 'there's a fire. There's a fire.' And I just got up and gathered my kids and their blankets, and grabbed whatever and ran out the door, and I saw the fire. If my mom wasn't there, I think I wouldn't have woke up,” said Mike.

Mike and another tenant, Galen Frank, said that they did not hear any authorities on scene attempt to wake up the residents. Mike and Frank also both said that neither fire alarms nor sprinklers went off in either of their units.

AVCP RHA President and CEO Mark Charlie said that AVCP RHA is temporarily relocating all the affected residents into unoccupied units in the larger 31-unit complex. He also said that the building where the fire occurred is likely at least three decades old.

Fire marshals from Anchorage were in Bethel over the weekend investigating the cause of the fire. The fire chief said that the fire burned from at least 4 a.m. to late morning on Aug. 12.

Olivia was a News Reporter for KYUK from 2020-2022.
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