Ketchikan fire survivor says husband died trying to save her daughter

A white man smiles at a camera in front of some cabinets
Nicholas Burbary, 41, and Madalyn Carraway, 8, died in a house fire in Ketchikan on Dec. 30. The fire’s lone survivor, Jeanine Burbary, says Nick saved her life. (Courtesy Jeanine Burbary)

The two people who perished last month in a Ketchikan house fire have been identified by its lone survivor. A memorial service is planned for later this week.

Jeanine Burbary credits her husband, Nick Burbary, with getting her out of the house alive.

“I would like people to know that he saved my life. And he died trying to save my daughter’s life,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

Burbary woke to smoke alarms blaring on the morning of Dec. 30. She rushed upstairs to the kitchen to find her husband laying on the floor near the stove. Flames were rising from the glass cooktop.

“He suffered from a seizure disorder, so I don’t know if maybe he had a seizure,” she told KRBD. “Who knows how long he was laying there.”

She grabbed a fire extinguisher, but couldn’t pull the pin, she said. She yelled at Nick, 41, to wake up.

“And he came to. And just so quick — the whole house just filled with black smoke. And he started yelling at me to get out, get out, get out,” she said.

But she could hear her 8-year-old daughter, Madalyn “Maddie” Carraway, upstairs on the third floor.

“I couldn’t see her, but I could hear her, and she’s like ‘Mom, I’m scared.’ And so I was like, ‘Walk towards my voice, towards my voice.’ And I couldn’t see her, and he just screamed to get out,” she said.

And she did. She said windows shattered as she opened the door. She ran across the street and pounded on a neighbor’s door, asking them to call 911.

Meanwhile, Nick headed upstairs to try to save Maddie.

“I don’t know how he managed to get up to her, but he did,” she said.

They never made it out. The flames, heat and smoke were too intense to allow firefighters inside, Ketchikan’s fire department said in a statement shortly after the fire.

“I keep telling people that he didn’t earn his angel wings — he earned golden wings,” she said.

A tight-knit family

Burbary said Nick and Maddie were close — she joked that Maddie was “Nick’s little shadow.” She said her daughter decided on her own to call her stepfather “Dad.”

“She would say, ‘I’m so lucky. I have two dads,’” Burbary said.

She said they loved to play with each other.

“They were always goofing off, like brother and sister, almost. I would get mad at them in the grocery store, and he’s like, ‘OK, we gotta chill out, Mom’s getting mad,’” she recalled.

The family also loved to hike together at Settlers Cove State Park and Carlanna Lake.

She said Nick was a commercial fisherman on the F/V Haida Chief and the F/V Resurrection, and dove for geoduck clams and sea cucumbers. She said she and Nick were a perfect match for one another.

Burbary said Nick was a caring, giving man. She said misses his beautiful smile and blue eyes.

She said the family loved to fish for halibut, salmon and crab — Nick took her fishing off the downtown Stedman Street bridge for her first time last summer. The two married last July in front of The Rock, an iconic statue on Ketchikan’s cruise ship docks.

“We had been together a few years, but he would always say, ‘I’m never getting married. I’m never getting married.’ And [then] there he is, down on one knee. And I’m like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ He’s like, ‘You’re kind of ruining the moment right now,’” she said with a laugh.

“He’s one of a kind, that’s for sure,” she added.

Burbary said Maddie was a beautiful, bubbly, bright third-grader at Tongass School of Arts and Sciences. She called Maddie her “miracle baby” — she said doctors gave her only a 25% chance of being born. She said Maddie performed with Ketchikan Theatre Ballet.

“She just loved to dance and sing and she was always so happy. Like, you never saw her have a bad moment,” she said.

‘This community has just been amazing’

Burbary said she’s grateful to the firefighters, medics and police that responded to the fire. And she thanks the Red Cross for providing financial support in the immediate aftermath. She’s staying with a friend for the time being.

She said she’s still working with her insurance company to assess what was lost in the fire. An online fundraiser has raised more than $23,000.

“This community has just been amazing. Just when I think Ketchikan can’t get any better, they stand up and show you that they can,” she said.

A memorial service is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Lighthouse Church of God. It’ll be open to the public. Burbary said anyone who can’t make it can contact her on Facebook for a link to live stream the service.

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