'I think they'll be acquitted' Willow residents wait for a verdict in the Sockeye Fire trial

Published: May. 11, 2017 at 2:51 PM AKDT
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Up the Parks Highway near mile post 69, three buses full of tourists lined up along the road Thursday to take photos of Denali. Dozens of people posed for selfies with Alaska's biggest mountain.

The road to get there, near the Willow True Value Hardware store, was shut down two years ago as the fire in the area known as the Sockeye Fire burned.

Jurors debated Thursday whether an Anchorage couple, Amy DeWitt and her husband Greg Imig, started the expensive fire back in 2015.

The trial lasted more than three weeks for the couple charged with criminally negligent burning for allegedly letting a smoldering brush fire escape a burn pit on their recreational property.

Even if they aren't found guilty, many people at one of the most popular stores in the area already have a verdict.

"They're convicted," Doyle Holmes joked.

Holmes owns the supply shop. He says most people bought their supplies from him as they rebuilt their homes and tried to get their lives back in order after the fire.

He says he watched the fire, which grew to more than 7,000 acres, from his back porch after he evacuated his store.

"We evacuated here once the smoke got in this area right here and ash started falling here," Holmes said. "I told everybody, 'Let's get anything out of here that looks like it costs more than $400 and lets get out of here.'"

On Thursday morning a steady stream of customers stopped by for advice or to buy lumber. Some of them chatted about the fire.

"We were in trouble," said Allen Reese who lives in Willow. "They blocked off the roads on both sides of my property over there and I was scared for a while."

Doyle says he thinks the trial will end in acquittal. He says he believes the defense poked enough holes in the state's case.

"They probably established reasonable doubt," Doyle said.

Now, they wait, to see what the jury decides.

Story corrected to say Parks Highway. Original copy said Glenn Highway.