Rural Alaska

Southwest Alaska village in coronavirus lockdown loses its store to fire

BETHEL - The only store in a Southwest Alaska village was lost to a fire fought by residents who could not seek help from neighboring communities because of a coronavirus lockdown.

The store in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta village of Kasigluk burned Sept. 10, leaving residents without a local place to buy groceries, clothes and other supplies, KYUK-AM reported Friday.

The store’s owners are investigating the cause of the fire, Kasigluk Police Chief Brian Noratak said.

Noratak was in the police station, less than a minute’s walk from the store, when he heard the building’s fire alarm at about 7 p.m.

Noratak saw smoke billowing from the store, which had closed less than an hour earlier.

“It started in the office. I know the office area, the entrance, and then it worked its way back towards the back of the store,” Noratak said.

Noratak would normally have called the nearby villages of Nunapitchuk and Atmautluak, but with Kasigluk closed to nonresidents to stem the spread of the coronavirus, he was forced to seek assistance over the radio from the people living in Kasigluk.

Noratak asked Atmautluak residents for extra water hoses, which were delivered by boat, but Kasigluk residents fought the flames, including people who left quarantine to assist.

“I’d like to commend people that helped out a lot because they did it without no fire gear,” Noratak said. “Can’t say names, as it was too much running around trying to get it over with, but we eventually got it contained.”

Everything in the store burned, including groceries, electronics and clothes. The fire spared the post office, a hardware store and warehouse that were all within about 40 feet of the store.

Kasigluk residents will have to travel to Atmautluak or farther southeast across the delta to Bethel for supplies, or rely on airlines to deliver orders until a new store opens.