The Arctic Sounder

State declares disaster following Kivalina fire and power outages

The state declared a disaster emergency Wednesday after a fire in Kivalina that on Tuesday destroyed two buildings, led to a prolonged power outage and prompted the evacuation of nearly half of the village.

No one was hurt in the fire, which was reported around 1 p.m. Tuesday and contained by early evening, borough Director of Public Safety Chris Hatch said. The blaze burned down the town’s bingo hall and the adjacent community center, as well as threatened the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative’s power plant located nearby, he said.

The damage to the power distribution system resulted in a communitywide power outage, according to a statement from the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

In the Northwest Alaska community of about 450 residents, Kivalina’s new school sheltered around 200 people Tuesday night, said Terri Walker, Northwest Arctic Borough School District superintendent. The new school is located 7 miles inland from Kivalina, serves as an evacuation site for the village and has backup generators.

Power to all but 16 houses was restored in the village around noon Wednesday, Hatch said. On Thursday, By Thursday, it was back up in the whole community, said Colleen Swan, spokesperson for the Kivalina incident command station.

Stormy weather in the area Wednesday complicated the response efforts, but the Northwest Arctic Borough, AVEC, NANA Corp., Maniilaq Association, State Fire Marshal, State Emergency Operations Center and Teck Alaska, which operates Red Dog Mine near the village, were providing supplies to the community.

One local volunteer got injured when he traveled to pick up gasoline to heat up the Kivalina Native Store during the electricity outage, Swan said. Arctic Backcountry Flying Service pilot Eric Sieh flew over to check on the injured volunteer and found him about 2 miles from the Red Dog Mine Port, Swan said. Sieh flew the individual to the Maniilaq Health Center in Kotzebue.


“The individual is doing OK but does require medical attention,” Swan said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared a state disaster emergency in response to the City of Kivalina and the Northwest Arctic Borough’s declaration of disaster requesting state assistance.

On April 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development to use food from the National School Lunch Program for a congregate feeding site at the school in Kivalina, according to the USDA press release.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do yet,” borough Mayor Dickie Motto said. “We’re going on the right path supporting the people of Kivalina.”

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.