2021: The year in review

It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times — again. People who naively thought that the Dumpster fire of 2020 would burn out in 2021 had their illusions shattered as 2021 turned out to be another bleak year of the pandemic. After a respite in spring and early summer when it looked like life would return to normal, a new variant of COVID-19, delta, roared through Alaska. Case counts, hospitalizations and deaths spiked, many of them among unvaccinated people.

Still, 2021 saw new hope as vaccines became widely available. First offered to seniors in January, by March anyone 16 and older could get vaccinated. By summer, the age dropped to 12 and by fall children 5 and older get could vaccinated. Public Health nurses even offered vaccines on the Homer Spit as part of Alaska’s Sleeves Up for Summer campaign.

Easing of travel restrictions, a higher vaccination rate and increased optimism led to a surge in tourism in Homer and Alaska. Third-quarter sales tax receipts at $90 million set a record for the City of Homer. Some activities postponed in 2020 returned live, like the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament or the Nutcracker Ballet. Many businesses relaxed restrictions like wearing face masks, while others remained cautious. Businesses reported trouble finding summer help, leading to limited hours and days open. That optimism faded when the delta variant kicked in.

Despite the pandemic, Homer showed resiliency, adapting to ever changing restrictions and rules, growing food and flowers, catching fish, playing sports, making music, writing books and creating art. Unlike in Washington, D.C., the city and borough held peaceful elections, with some incumbents gracefully losing and new faces appearing on councils and assemblies. We shoveled out of snowfalls, helped our neighbors get unstuck from ditches, rallied around families who lost homes and at year’s end, prepared to welcome in the 2022 with hope, always hope.

January

The new year started with what had become a tradition: crowdsourced fireworks on the Homer Spit. At South Peninsula Hospital, Victoria and Robert Walker welcomed a new member of the family, Eleanor Rose Walker, a true New Year’s child born at 11:26 a.m. Jan. 1, 2021.

With the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines in 2020 for health care workers, the Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force moved the timeline forward and opened up appointments for seniors age 65 and older to start getting their shot. At a clinic held Jan. 15, 715 seniors signed up for two days of clinics and the first of a two-shot series. The clinics became not just a celebration of hope for the end of the pandemic, but a social occasion as elders who had been in isolation saw friends. At the start of 2021, Alaska had 48,899 positive cases of COVID-19 and 219 deaths, with 1,054 Alaskans hospitalized.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget would have closed Alaska Department of Motor Vehicle offices in Homer and other rural communities, even though the Homer office generated almost $500,000 in net revenue to the state. Under Dunleavy’s plan, private contractors were to provide DMV services customers couldn’t get online. The plan met universal opposition, said Doug Letch, an aide to Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

“Everyone we have heard from — and it’s been quite a few — nobody has said it’s a good idea,” Letch said.

In March, a House subcommittee voted to deny the governor’s budget action request that would have closed the Homer and other DMV offices.

After the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol in which some people tried to to disrupt the counting of electoral votes, and in which police were injured or died, about 50 people in Homer protested the assault on democracy. One participant, Art Koeninger, said he came to support Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who had called for former President Donald Trump to leave office before his term ended.

The Homer City Council unanimously passed a resolution to promote civility. The resolution stated that the City of Homer will encourage civility by “listening respectfully to people who have different views, avoiding language or actions that are insulting to people who have different views, avoiding language or actions that are insulting or derogatory to others, and supporting efforts to work together across ideological and political lines.”

Kenai Peninsula Borough schools resumed in-person classes at the start of the new semester. Many schools had been remote-learning only because of the high-risk levels of COVID-19 in communities. Students returned under restrictions, however, with some attending on a week-on, week-off schedule to reduce the number of students on campus. Students also had to wear face coverings at all times except when eating lunch.

February

The COVID-19 rates increased, with 54,820 positives cases at the start of February, 1,182 hospitalizations and 277 deaths. The state opened up vaccinations to the next tier, K-12 teachers and support staff of any age, those age 50 and older who have high-risk medical conditions and those who work in an essential industry. The school district held a special clinic for staff following the announcement. By mid-February, Alaska led the nation in vaccination rates. Gov. Dunleavy also announced he’d tested positive for COVID-19, and went into isolation with mild symptoms.

Following President Joe Biden’s executive order pausing new oil and gas lease sales on federal lands, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced it canceled the public comment period on a proposed lease sale in lower Cook Inlet. Biden also ordered that flags be flown at half mast for five days to honor the 500,000 Americans who died of COVID-19.

A statue of Brother Asaiah Bates made by Homer artist Leo Vait found a new home on the lawn of the KBBI Public Radio studio. The statue had previously been on the porch of Cosmic Kitchen, but was moved after the former owners sold the Pioneer Avenue restaurant.

The Homer Winter Carnival continued in a scaled-back form. The traditional parade had to be canceled, though, because it conflicted with a mass-vaccine clinic. With the theme “Celebrating with Gratitude,” the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center encouraged businesses to host events.

March

The state opened up another tier for those eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, offering it to anyone aged 55 and older, anyone 16 and older who worked in an essential business or had a high-risk medical condition. At the start of March, 59,030 Alaskans tested positive for COVID-19, with 1,245 hospitalized and 299 Alaskans who had died.

The Kachemak Nordic Ski Club put in its marathon trail from Lookout Mountain to Diamond Ridge, but instead of holding a single-day event, it encouraged skiers to traverse a 42-km trail from Lookout Mountain to the Baycrest Trail system. The marathon had been canceled in 2020.

On March 5, the city held its largest mass vaccination clinic, with 500 people attending. In a report to the Homer City Council, South Peninsula Hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro said the Homer Unified Command had given more than 2,000 doses of vaccine, with 1,600 people having completed a two-dose series. In mid-March, Alaska became the first state to offer vaccines to anyone age 16 and older. By the end of March, 26% of Kenai Peninsula residents had been vaccinated. In an opinion piece, Dunleavy said “the end is in sight” of the pandemic.

Several Homer and Alaska environmental groups wrote letters to Dunleavy questioning the process for how his administration made a rule change allowing personal watercraft in the Fox River and Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Areas. The rule change took effect in January and allowed the watercraft in the critical habitat areas. The groups said there had private communications and meetings between administration officials and personal watercraft advocates.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, held a town hall meeting at Captain’s Coffee during a break in the Legislature. About 55 people attended, only four of them wearing face masks. The pandemic was a hot topic. Vance said she did not support the House Majority passing a bill to extend the pandemic emergency declaration.

Former Speaker of the House and Rep. Gail Phillips, 76, died March 25 in Anchorage of cancer. Her political career started as a Homer City Council member in 1981 until she retired from politics in 2001.

“Gail was one of those great Alaskan leaders whose contributions you can’t even begin to enumerate,” said Murkowski, who served in the Legislature with Phillips.

April

At the start of April, 60,333 Alaskans and 2,568 nonresidents had tested positive for COVID-19, with 1,350 hospitalized and 309 dead. Gov. Dunleavy encouraged Alaskans to get vaccinated and also said the pandemic was “in the rear view mirror.”

“Each vaccinated person gets us one step closer to putting the pandemic behind us and getting back to living life freely like we did before COVID-19,” Dunleavy said.

The City of Homer lowered its alert level from orange to yellow, the second lowest alert level on a scale of green-yellow-orange-red, with red being the highest level. The meant the city could reopen the Homer Public Library to the public and resume activities at the Homer Education and Recreation Complex.

The school district relaxed face mask rules for outdoor activities.

The Homer City Council passed an ordinance banning the launch of personal watercraft from city beaches. The ordinance required the watercraft to be launched at the Homer Harbor.

The Homer Winter King Tournament returned, and in a first, the youngest person ever caught the largest king salmon. Andrew Marley, 10, caught his 25.62-pound trophy fishing with his father, Dr. Jay Marley. The tournament returned after being canceled in 2020, with 1,562 anglers in 455 boats participating. Marley won $87,027.

South Peninsula Hospital began offering walk-in vaccinations at its Bartlett Street testing and vaccination center. Almost 20,000 people on the peninsula had received at least their first dose of the vaccine. On the southern peninsula, case rates continued to rise, with three new cases reported among students or staff, all of them from outside the school.

Rehabilitation of Lake Street started, a summer-long project to improve the street with better drainage, repaving and the addition of bicycle lanes.

The FBI served a warrant on a Homer couple and their Ocean Drive Loop home and spa. The warrant alleged that Marilyn Hueper was the woman in a photograph taken during the Jan. 6 Capitol riots who had entered the building and taken Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s laptop computer. The FBI broke down the door of the Hueper home. An Instagram photo taken by Paul Hueper showed Marilyn Hueper on the grounds of the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riots. Hueper denied entering the Capitol and said the FBI mistakenly identified her as person-of-interest #225, the woman in the photograph. Hueper and the woman in the photo both looked to be about the same age, had shoulder-length curly brown hair, and wore puffy down jackets on Jan. 6. The U.S. Department of Justice later charged a New York woman and her son with taking Pelosi’s laptop and said she was person-of-interest #225.

May

The COVID-19 positive-test rate was 65,762 Alaskans and 2,756 non-residents, with 1,503 hospitalizations and 342 deaths.

The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival returned, but in a hybrid format. Some events like talks were held virtually, while other events like shorebird viewing were held live.

Homer City Hall opened to in-person services. Mask and social-distancing requirements remained in place.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination for children ages 12-15. South Peninsula Hospital held a vaccine clinic for students only. Public Health nurses also held a pop-up clinic May 5 on the Homer Spit, the first of a series of pop-up clinics designed to make it easier for seasonal workers to get vaccinated.

Homer High School held an in-person graduation ceremony to honor the 91 graduating seniors of the class of 2021. The ceremony was held on the turf. A parade was held down Pioneer Avenue of the graduates. Homer Flex School also graduated five students.

A red bloom of algae in Kachemak Bay alarmed fishermen and mariners, but tests showed the algae was Mesodinium rubrum, a non-harmful algae. The red algae could turn oysters pink, though. Beryl Air pilot Stephanie Greer first noticed the bloom while flying over the bay. Scientists from the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve took samples.

In late May, the COVID-19 alert status for Alaska dropped from high to intermediate, to 7.99 cases per 100,000 people. Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink visited Homer with Alaska Department of Heath and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum and got a rock-star welcome. Zink and Crum came as part of the Sleeves Up for Summer campaign to get people vaccinated.

An Emergency Room doctor, Zink said of people getting vaccinated, “That’s one less person I might have to see in the ER. My team is like, ‘Oh, we only got 30 people today.’ That’s 30 people. You don’t understand. That’s amazing.”

June

The COVID-18 alert level in early June stood at low, with 3.76 cases per 100,000. The total number of Alaskans who tested positive was 67,507, with 2,812 nonresidents. There were 1,562 total hospitalizations and 336 deaths.

Firefighters stopped two wildfires off East End Road from flaring up and also caught a thermostat that had heated up from turning into a structure fire.

The Homer Council on the Arts celebrated Mary Epperson Day in honor of the late arts leader. It held outdoor activities and some indoor events as a cautious reopening during the pandemic.

The Homer City Council voted down an ordinance that would have changed how council members got elected. Council members Heath Smith and Storm Hansen-Cavasos proposed a change that would have had candidates compete for a specific seat rather than the current system of having all candidates compete together for open seats, with the top two winnin. Homer Mayor Ken Castner broke a 3-3 tie vote to vote against the ordinance.

Homer held a combined Juneteenth and Pride march. The event combined a celebration of the end of slavery with that of LGQBT people. A Pride-only event was held the following weekend.

Homer initially showed a high vaccination rate of 74.1%, but a confusion in how people gave their addresses made that number seem higher than usual. The rate was for census designated places using the 99603 zip code, but some Fritz Creek residents used Homer mailing addresses, making the Fritz Creek numbers seem lower and the Homer numbers higher. A recalculation later showed the rate to be 56.9%.

The Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center held a two-day Food Fest on the Homer Spit, another sign that the tourist industry began to return to normal.

A Homer jury ruled that Anesha “Duffy” Murnane should be presumed dead. Murnane went missing on Oct. 17, 2019, and her family filed a petition to declare her legally dead. The jury also determined that Murnane’s death was a homicide.

July

State officials emphasized the importance of getting both doses of a two-shot series to protect against delta, the variant that started spreading over the summer. By early July, Alaska had 13 cases of delta. The state remained in the low alert level at 4.22s case per 100,000, with 68,300 Alaskans and 2,887 nonresidents testing positive. Total hospitalizations were 1,606.

Homer held a Fourth of July parade that drew hundreds to Pioneer Avenue. Nearly 40 floats and groups moved down the street in the celebration of American independence.

Homer City Council member Joey Evensen submitted his resignation. Elected in October 2019, he had one year remaining in his term. In an email, Evensen said he resigned because of the “Council’s consistent lack of productivity and the strongly unpleasant work environment.”

The cool temperatures and good soil of Alaska make it the only place in the world buyers can get fresh peonies in July and August. A cooler-than-normal summer meant the popular wedding flower was even later in 2021. Homer still held its annual Homer Peony Celebration.

As COVID-19 cases started to climb, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink encouraged Alaskans to get vaccinated.

“This is not over, and they are making a choice between getting COVID or getting vaccinated,” she said at a press conference.

A Fort Lauderdale, Flordia, woman fishing for halibut with a spear while free diving set a world record. Lisa Stengel caught a 71.4-pound halibut with a pole gear. Capt. Brian Reid of the Castle Cape took Stengel and other free divers out fishing. Reid and Coldwater Alaska owners Brad and Lisa Conley have helped build a small but growing interest in free diving for big fish like halibut on Kachemak Bay.

The peninsula went into the COVID-19 red zone as positive case numbers began to rise. Homer’s local testing clinic saw a dramatic increase in the number of tests, with a positive rate of 17%.

Homer pet owners haven’t escaped a national shortage of veterinarians. An increase in pet ownership spurred by the pandemic didn’t help.

In a sign that the state economy had begun to recover, job numbers increased in June, according to a July report. Alaska saw about 17,000 more jobs compared to June 2020.

Hospitalization and death rates increased on the peninsula. Central Peninsula Hospital had 10 patients with COVID-19, including three who had been intubate and on ventilators. One man in his 70s died and another was medevacked to Anchorage. South Peninsula Hospital also saw an increased, with five COVID-19 patients hospitalized. The hospital emergency room had seen one or two visits a day for COVID-19 symptoms. Most of the infections were in young people ages 20-29, Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll told the Homer City Council.

The Homer City Council returned in-person to its remodeled chambers for the first time since the pandemic started. The improvements include equipment to offer the meetings in a hybrid model so that people can attend in person or remotely and still participate.

An 8.2-magnitude earthquake on July 28 prompted a tsunami warning and evacuation of the Homer Spit. The largest earthquake in the United States in 50 years, the quake didn’t cause any local damage.

August

All census regions of the state were in the high alert status, according to DHSS. DHSS said that sicne Jan. 1, 84% of all hospitalizations and 94% of all deaths were of people not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated.

Salmonfest returned with live performances at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik. Capacity and ticket sales were cut back, and concert organizers encouraged people to wear face masks. Later in August, the Kenai Peninsula Fair returned and celebrated its 70th year.

About 70 South Peninsula Hospital staff suffered food poisoning after some ate pulled pork sandwiches made by a vendor. The hospital had ordered to-go lunches from multiple restaurants. The general public did not get the sandwiches. DHSS officials determined the food poisoning probably happened because of improper cooling of cooked meat.

The Homer City Council voted down a proposal to allow onsite consumption at Homer cannabis facilities.

In a flurry of social media posts, at least seven businesses announced temporary closures because of rising COVID-19 cases in Homer, including the Homer News. Some restaurants announced they were stopping in-house dining and again offering to-go orders only. Because of the increase in cases, Capstone Clinic held pop-up testing clinics at the Homer Public Library. Of 959 tests done, 10.11% were positive.

“Homer has done so well, and now to have more outbreaks than we had ever before makes it a little nerve wracking, to say the least,” said NOMAR owner Kate Mitchell, one of the businesses affected.

Peninsula public schools opened on Aug. 17.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough took in about $5.2 million more than anticipated in sales tax revenue over the last year.

Three Homer men died of COVID-19, the DHSS announced on Aug. 24. A man in his 80s and two men in their 50s died. The deaths were reported through the death certificate review process.

The Homer City Council appointed Jason Davis, a local business owner, to fill the seat left vacant by Joey Evensen when he resigned.

Alaska State Troopers and the Special Emergency Reaction Team apprehended Bret Herrick, 60, after he allegedly shot Trooper Bruce Brueggeman when the trooper tried to arrest Herrick on a warrant in the parking lot of the Warehouse Store in Anchor Point. The trooper was in fair condition. Troopers said Herrick shot Brueggeman five times with a .45 handgun, with some bullets hitting the trooper’s ballistic vest and one hitting him in the upper arm. Herrick ran away after the shooting. Troopers closed the highway in front of the store and Chapman School students were placed in a “stay put” status. Nearby residents were advised to shelter in place until Herrick was captured a day later.

Three people filed to run for two Homer City Council seats: incumbent Donna Aderhold, former council member Shelly Erickson and Adam Hykes. Council member Heath Smith chose to run for a 1-year seat, the remainder of former council member Joey Evensen’s seat, against appointed council member Jason Davis.

Running for the Homer seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly were Ashton Callahan, Dawson Slaughter and Mike Tupper. Incumbent Willy Dunne could not run for re-election because of term limits.

Running for the Homer seat on the borough school board were Tim Daugharty and Britny Bradshaw.

September

DHSS reported an Anchor Point man in his 80s died of COVID-19. The statewide death total was 431 in early September. The statewide alert level was 479.1 cases per 100,000 people, with 85,597 Alaskans testing positive. The school district reported 130 positive cases among students and staff from Aug. 23-30.

The population of the Kenai Peninsula grew 6.1%, according to the 2020 census, from 55,400 to about 58,800.

After an increase in COVID-19 cases, Homer schools went to universal face mask wearing. The order remained in effect until Sept. 21.

After the end of the summer tourist season on Labor Day, businesses reported a banner year. Numerous business reported record-breaking numbers, said Brad Anderson, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.

Monoclonal antibody infusions saved her life, said Judith Eckert, a COVID-19 patient. Although fully vaccinated, Eckert said the delta variant quickly overtook her. Eckert suffered from autoimmune disease, so delta hit her even harder. Infusions for REGEN-COV knocked back the infection.

Despite a surge in COVID-19 cases at other Alaska hospitals, with some going into crisis mode, South Peninsula Hospital has held steady and did not have to turn any patients away, hospital PIO Derotha Ferraro told the Homer City Council. SPH is short staffed, and staffing levels could cause a delay in patients being admitted from the emergency room to acute care.

Two southern peninsula residents died of COVID-19, DHSS reported: a Homer woman in her 60s and an Anchor Point man in his 60s. That brought the death total to nine, five in Homer and four in Anchor Point.

The school board approved contracts and pay raises for school nurses. The contract included a change in health insurance premiums from a composite rate to a tiered rate. Nurses got a $5 an hour, with some of the raise paid for in federal COVID relief funds.

In late September, DHSS reported three more southern peninsula COVID-19 deaths: a Homer woman in her 70s, an Anchor Point woman 80 or older and a Homer man in his 50s, raising the local death count to 12.

Homer got is first fast-charging electric car station, a hook-up at AJ’s Old Town Steakhouse. Homer had a slower charging hook-up at the Art Shop Gallery, but the new fast-charging hook-up is part of a planned network that will allow electric vehicles to have charging stations along Alaska’s road system.

October

DHSS reported 113,857 Alaskans and 4,941 nonresidents tested positive for COVID-19, with the death total at 561. A total of 2,465 Alaskans have been hospitalized with COVID-19.

Donna Aderhold and Shelly Erickson won election to two Homer City Council seats. Appointed council member Jason Davis won election to the remainder of a 1-year seat against incumbent Heath Smith. Davis became the first openly gay or LGQBT person elected to the council.

In borough elections, Mike Tupper was elected to the borough assembly and Tim Daugharty to the school board.

About 130 people joined the Homer Women’s March, part of nationwide rallies in support of women’s reproductive rights.

After the FDA approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for a third booster shot, the hospital held a booster clinic for people in qualifying groups.

A group of East Hill Road area residents rescued Thunder, a 13-year-old Alaska Malamute, after he went missing for a week. Thunder was found after another dog and Thunder’s friend, Allie, wandered off and found Thunder trapped in a ravine. To rescue Thunder, friends of the owner, Colette Ireland, had to cut brush and haul him to safety.

A draft redistricting plan cut the Fritz Creek and Fox River areas out of the current District 31 and put them in a new district to the south that includes Kodiak.

“I am still in the collection stage of trying to understand the logic behind it,” said George Hall, District 31 Republican Party chairman.

Hobo Jim Varsos died of cancer just two weeks after he went public about his diagnosis. The former Homer resident and popular singer-songwriter was named Alaska’s official state balladeer in 1994 and was known for the “Iditarod Trail Song.”

Former Alaska legislator Clem Tillion died at his Halibut Cove home on Oct. 13 after a short illness. Tillion served as representative from 1963-71, senator from 1975-78 and senate president from 1979-80. Tillion helped Gov. Jay Hammond put into law a dividend paid to Alaskans from earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund. Tillion also gained distinction as a “fish czar” under Hammond.

A Homer man in his 60s died of COVI-19, DHSS reported.

The Homer City Council passed an aircraft flat tax rate that gives plane owners a tax break. The previous tax rate had been based on value, so that aircraft owner Gary Porter, who runs a flightseeing business, paid $30,000 on a Twin Otter. Under the new rate, his tax fell to $1,000, in line with the borough flat tax system.

South Peninsula Hospital held COVID-19 vaccine clinics for children ages 5-11 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved emergency use authorization for that age group for the Pfizer vaccine.

Alaska State Parks held a community meeting virtually and in person to discuss a bill filed by Rep. Sarah Vance to add 270 acres to Kachemak Bay State Park in the Eastland-Cottonwood unit near the end of East End Road. Vance’s House Bill 52 also would remove from the park acreage around the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery to “cure,” as Vance said, a land disposal issue. Vance said legal decisions made the hatchery incompatible with the park, and to solve that issue her bill would take the hatchery out of the park.

Homer writer Tom Kizzia published his third nonfiction book, “Cold Mountain Path,” about the ghost town history of McCarthy.

November

DHSS announced a Homer man in his 80s or older died of COVID-19. The Alaska death total was 792 residents, with 138,535 residents and 5,313 nonresidents who have tested positive; 2,878 Alaskans have been hospitalized. The statewide alert level remained high at 532.9 cases per 100,000 people.

Friends of Capt. Josh Brooks held a farewell when about 30 boats and 300 people gathered on Kachemak Bay in his honor. A popular halibut charter captain, Brooks, 45, died of a sudden heart attack while on vacation in Mexico.

Under changes to state law, all-terrain vehicles will be allowed on some peninsula roads — but not in the City of Homer. The regulations allow ATVs if licensed and if the speed limit is 45 mph or less.

Positive test rates in Homer began to drop slightly, with a drop from 6% to 4%.

The Alaska Redistricting Board released its final maps, reversing an earlier plan that put Fritz Creek and Fox River in a House district to the south. The new plan created House District 6 for the southern peninsula that includes the south shore communities of Kachemak Bay. Along with District 5, the Kodiak area district, District 6 is in Senate District C.

At the end of November, South Peninsula Hospital reported a first since the surge of the delta COVID-19 variant: no patients hospitalized with COVID-19. That was the first time in five months with no COVID-19 patients.

Work started on the molds for the Loved & Lost Memorial Bench, a bench created to honor Anesha “Duffy” Murnane and other people who have gone missing. Created by Homer artist Brad Hughes, when complete the bench will be installed at the Homer Public Library.

One person died and another person was burned in an Thanksgiving Day house fire in Anchor Point. Western Emergency Services firefighters found the house fully engulfed in flames when they arrived.

A K-9 Alaska State Trooper team found a lost 12-year-old girl on Thanksgiving Day evening after she went missing from her downtown Homer home. Trooper Scout Sutton and K-9 Trooper Lavi found the girl at Bishop’s Beach.

An Anchor Point man in his 60s was the latest person to die of COVID-19 in the southern peninsula, DHSS announced in late November.

Homer writer Rich Chiappone published his first mystery thriller, “The Hunger of Crows.”

December

At year’s end, DHSS announced three more people on the southern peninsula died of COVID-19: a Homer man in his 30s, a Kenai Peninsula Borough south man in his 60s and another borough south man in his 70s. In all, 2o people on the southern peninsula have died of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

For the Dec. 27 data summary, DHSS reported 150,643 Alaskans and 5,534 nonresidents tested positive for COVID-19, with 945 resident deaths and 3,249 hospitalizations. The statewide alert level remained high at 139.9 per 100,000. The state reported the new variant concern, omicron, had appeared in a test done on an Alaskan who had traveled recently as well as Alaskans who had not traveled.

A 25-year-old Homer man, Drew Brown, died in a car crash two days before Christmas. The crash remained under investigation.

A natural gasline break on the causeway over Beluga Lake shut down Lake Street for about an hour when Public Works crews hit the line while trying to repair a water main break. Public Works Director Jan Keiser said the locate marks for the gasline were about 15 feet off.

A magnitude 5.9 earthquake rattled Homer, but did not cause any damage.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

Charles Aguilar wears a President Donald Trump puppet at a protest against Trump on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, at WKFL Park in Homer, Alaska. He was part of about 50 people who reacted to the events of Jan. 6, 2021, in which rioters broke into the U.S. Capitol while Congress attempted to tally the Electoral College results in which former Vice President Joe Biden won the presidential election. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

About 50 people protest the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, at WKFL Park in Homer, Alaska. The group reacted to the events in which rioters broke into the U.S. Capitol while Congress attempted to tally the Electoral College results in which former Vice President Joe Biden won the presidential election.Charles Aguilar, far right, wore a Trump puppet costume. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

City of Homer Recreation Manager Mike Illg, who is in the planning section of Homer’s Unified Command Mass Vaccination PODs, stands on the upper level of Homer High School overlooking the Commons during a vaccine clinic on Friday, March 5, 2021 in Homer, Alaska. Providing more than 500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to local residents, it was the Unified Command’s largest mass clinic to date. (Photo courtesy Derotha Ferraro/South Peninsula Hospital)

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks at a town hall meeting on Monday, March 29, 2021, at Captain’s Coffee in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Andrew Marley, the 2021 Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament winner, at left, holds his prize winning 25.62-pound white king salmon on Saturday, April 17, 2021, on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. Helping him are his father, Jay Marley, center, and older brother Weston Marley, right. The family team included Erica Marley, not shown, all fishing on the Fly Dough. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

South Peninsula Hospital registered nurse Anne Garay gives Jessica Entsminger her second COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, May 7, 2021, at a pop-up vaccination clinic at the Boathouse Pavillion on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. About 25 people received vaccines in the first 3.5 hours of the 4-hour clinic. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Future so bright sunglasses are advised. Homer High School seniors participate in a parade through town in celebration of their graduation on May 18. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News) (Front page centerpiece photo)

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, M.D., left, poses for a selfie with Kelly Bolt, right, and Debbie Gardner, center, who work at WIC, at a meet-and-greet on Thursday, May 27, 2021, at the Homer Public Health Center in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)

Flaggers control traffic on Friday, April 23, 2021, during preliminary construction work on Lake Street in Homer, Alaska. Rehabilitation work will be done on the street this spring and summer. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Sara Berg, right, talks with artist Brad Hughes, left, at Hughes’ Homer, Alaska, studio in June 2021 about the Loved & Lost Memorial Bench project Berg and other family and friends of Anesha Murnane commissioned to honor Murnane and other missing woman and children. (Photo by Christina Whiting)