A fire destroyed Stebbins’ only grocery store and spread to the community’s main fuel console Tuesday, officials said.
A resident smelled the smoke and saw flames pouring from the Stebbins Native Store around 4 a.m., said Jacinta Martin, a tribal coordinator at the Stebbins Community Association. The building was connected to the fuel company, which then also caught fire, she said.
No one was inside the building when it caught fire and Martin said there were no injuries.
There is no fire department in Stebbins, which is located roughly 120 miles southeast of Nome and home to more than 600 people. The remnants of the buildings were still smoldering Tuesday afternoon, Martin said.
Gwen Raymond lives directly next to the store and said she awoke early Tuesday to banging on her door. Because of the proximity, there was concern that her home would also be destroyed by the blaze. Raymond said she immediately gathered her four children so they could shelter at the school and she began packing some of their belongings.
Raymond said she could hear bullets explode as the fire reached ammunition that was sold at the store.
Nearly the entire town gathered to watch as flames devoured the buildings, she said. Those who lived nearby were fearful for their own homes, Raymond said, and others were saddened by the destruction.
The fire did not spread to any surrounding homes, but Raymond said she can’t return home immediately because the smell of smoke is too strong inside.
An Alaska State Trooper was in Stebbins when the fire occurred and a deputy fire marshal will investigate the origin and cause, troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel said.
The fire leaves the town without a grocery store and a main fuel console.
The community plans to use the old washeteria as a temporary store, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He said food is available in Unalakleet — which is roughly 50 miles northeast of Stebbins — and officials are looking into transportation and storage options.
“Red Cross and Alaska Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters is also looking at food, water, and other supplies the community may need,” Zidek said in an email.
The community is still able to access fuel through a gravity feed system, but the console was destroyed in the fire, Zidek said. It may take several days to restore full fuel accessibility, but Zidek said the process is in the works.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is working to ensure there are no spills and fuel is transferred safely, according to Zidek.
The State Emergency Operations Center is working with city officials, but Zidek said there were not any emergency requests for “life, health, or safety needs at this time.”
Stebbins was one of dozens of Western Alaska communities that experienced flooding and other damage in September after the remnants of a massive Pacific typhoon battered the region.