BETHEL — A fire in Tuluksak destroyed a plant that served as the community’s only source of clean running water, leaving residents waiting for a delivery of bottled water by plane.
Alaska State Troopers said the fire at the water plant in Tuluksak burned from about noon until 4:30 p.m. Saturday, KYUK-AM reported.
Residents of the Alaska Native community northeast of Bethel hauled water from the Tuluksak River with snowmachines while attempting to douse the flames that eventually destroyed the plant.
“When I looked out the window, my husband and a few other men were trying to get into the water plant and washeteria. They had to break the door, but they were a little too late,” said Tribal Council Secretary Kristy Napoka, who lives next door and works at the plant.
Napoka’s husband unsuccessfully attempted to use a hose to stop the blaze before her family brought water from the river, she said.
“They started splashing water into the fire, but it didn’t do any good. It just kept getting bigger and worse,” Napoka said.
Villagers who did not have potable water saved in their home tanks had the option of hauling water from the nearby Kuskokwim River or awaiting a shipment of bottled water.
Cases of donated bottled water were delayed in Bethel because of airport runway closures and thin river ice.
Tuluksak’s runway was unusable for some time because of poor weather conditions. The person who usually plows the runway was in Anchorage being treated for COVID-19.
Napoka said her family had 20 gallons (76 liters) of drinkable water left to share between nine household members. They used water from the Tuluksak River for dishes and cleaning, but were not planning to drink it, she said.
Residents have previously made complaints to the state Legislature about sediment making Tuluksak River water unsafe to drink.