The Arctic Sounder

Utqiaġvik residents evacuated over the weekend to avoid smoke from a structure fire

A fire early Friday morning destroyed a borough administrative building in Utqiaġvik and led to the evacuation of several residents, local officials said. No injuries were reported.

By Monday, the city had closed an emergency shelter and resumed normal operations. However, emergency services were still responding to contain the situation on Tuesday, according to a North Slope Borough statement.

“Unfortunately, the site is still unsafe,” borough officials said. “Expect to continue to see rising smoke and steer clear of the area.”

Borough dispatch received a call around 11 p.m. Jan. 26 about a fire incident at the North Slope Borough Shipping and Receiving building, located on Ahkovak Street in Utqiaġvik. Emergency services responded to the call and contained the fire, according to the statement that borough officials released Friday afternoon.

“No other homes were affected,” said borough spokeswoman Araina Danner. “The building was across the street from residential homes.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation, borough officials said.

As a result of the prevailing weather conditions, the smoke from the fire spread over the nearby area, Block A, according to the statement from the City of Utqiaġvik. The North Slope Borough initiated an optional evacuation of the area to help them avoid smoke inhalation, said Kalen Texeira, the city’s director of operations.


The city provided emergency shelter for evacuees at two locations, Piuraaġvik Recreation Center and the Roller Rink, Texeira said. The Youth Center was also on standby for additional needs.

“We had multiple people stop in for an hour or so, but none stayed overnight,” Texeira said.

On Monday morning, the borough informed the city that the shelters are no longer needed, Texeira said. The city reopened recreation facilities for normal operations, according to the statement.

Resident Aubie Gregg said she lives in Block A, close to the building that burned down, and the air in her house became smoky after the fire.

“Friday night the wind shifted and our house quickly filled with electric-smelling smoke,” she said. “We had to grab the dogs and some clothes and go to my sister’s house.”

The family was able to return home the next day, she said.

“My phone keeps buzzing with all the people reaching out to see if they could help,” she said.

The facility that burned down had four sections: Purchasing; Records; Shipping and Receiving; and Risk Management, Danner said. In the Shipping and Receiving office, borough employees oversaw and coordinated shipments of incoming and outgoing goods, materials and mail, according to the borough website.

[Correction: The previous version of the story incorrectly stated that by Monday, the smoke issues from the fire were resolved. In fact, the area stayed smoky on Tuesday, according to the borough.]

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.