Chiniak Fire Claims Library, Spares School

Jay Barrett/KMXT

A growing, wind-whipped wildfire continues to burn out of control in Chiniak.

As of 10 this morning officials reported that while the Chiniak library has burnt down, the nearby Chiniak K-8 School survived.

The blaze began sometime around 9 last (Thursday) night, and may have been sparked by downed powerlines. Darron Scott of Kodiak Electric Association said that reports of outages in the Chiniak area began coming in before 9 p.m., though there were no reports of downed powerlines. The power is still out past the Chiniak post office.

All night flames of the rapidly growing fire were clearly visible from Kodiak City, 10 miles across Chiniak Bay. Kodiak City Manager Aimee Kniaziowski, who serves as the joint city-borough emergency management coordinator, said winds gusting to 60 mph caused the fire to quickly grow, forcing evacuation of the small community. 

“We don’t know where the fires at. We don’t know how big it is. At about 4:30 this morning it was about 2,000 acres,” she said on the KMXT Morning News. “And that was just an unprofessional estimate, so we expect that it’s even larger than that now.”

She said the U.S. Coast Guard was planning to send a helicopter to the scene to make an aerial survey of the area burned. 

Air travel to, from, and around Kodiak has been hampered by the strong westerly winds, which whipped up ash from the Katmai-Novarupta volcanic explostion over 100 years ago, just across the Shelikof Strait. Numerous commercial airline flights were canceled yesterday evening and so far this morning.

“We were concerned about the ash in the air that was why when we contacted the state operations folks requesting assistance, they knew they couldn’t send any firefighters or anybody out,” Kniaziowski said. “At least certainly last night because of the ash and so forth.”

Several school buses were sent to Chiniak last night  to help evacuate residents. A few were brought to the Kodiak Middle School and spent the night. Kniaziowski said many others checked in and nobody is reported missing.

“We’re not too concerned about any one individual. It looks like most people have accounted for. At last count it looks as many as 75 people have reported in and at the shelter,” she said. “We only had a couple at the shelter at the middle school.”)

Kodiak Fire Chief Jim Mullican told KMXT’s Pam Foreman before 6 a.m. that people are not being allowed past a certain point.

“We have a roadblock set up at Roslyn Beach. Residents will not be allowed beyond that point,” Mullican said. “We are encouraging residents to not even to go out to that area. The fire is still burning and is still out of control.”

Residents of the nearby community of Pasagshak have been warned to prepare for evacuation in event the winds change. The forecast calls for westerly winds calming a bit today, but still gusting to 40 mph. A small chance of rain is in tonight’s forecast, with a slightly greater chance Saturday.

This is a developing story, and we’ll update it as more information becomes available.

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