Chiniak fire claims library, spares school; Residents evacuated

Photo by Scott Wight. Shared via KMXT.org.
Photo by Scott Wight. Shared via KMXT.org.

A growing, wind-whipped wildfire continues to burn out of control in Chiniak. The latest report is that while the Chiniak library has burnt down, the nearby Chiniak K-8 School survived.

The blaze began sometime around 9 p.m. Thursday night, and may have been sparked by downed powerlines. All night flames of the rapidly growing fire were clearly visible from Kodiak City, 10 miles across Chiniak Bay.

Kodiak City Manager Aimee Kniaziowski, who serves as the joint city-borough emergency management coordinator, said winds gusting to 60 mph caused the fire to quickly grow, forcing evacuation of the small community.

“We don’t know where the fires at. We don’t know how big it is… about 4:30 this morning it was about 2,000 acres. And that was just an unprofessional estimate, so we expect that it’s even larger than that now.”

She said the U.S. Coast Guard was planning to send a helicopter to the scene to make an aerial survey of the area burned. Air travel to, from, and around Kodiak has been hampered by the strong westerly winds, which whipped up ash from the Katmai-Novarupta volcanic explostion over 100 years ago, just across the Shelikof Strait. Numerous commercial airline flights were canceled yesterday evening and so far this morning.

We were concerned about the ash in the air that was why when we contacted the state operations folks requesting assistance, they knew they couldn’t send any firefighters or anybody out, at least certainly last night because of the ash and so forth.”

Several school buses were sent to Chiniak last night to help evacuate residents. A few were brought to the Kodiak Middle School and spent the night. Kniaziowski said many others checked in and nobody is reported missing.

“We’re not too concerned about any one individual. It looks like most people have accounted for. At last count it looks as many as 75 people have reported in and at the shelter. We only had a couple at the shelter at the middle school.”)

Kodiak Fire Department Chief Jim Mullican told KMXT that people are not being allowed past a certain point several miles from the fire.

“We have a roadblock set up at Roslyn Beach. Residents will not be allowed beyond that point. We are encouraging residents to not even to go out to that area. The fire is still burning and is still out of control.”

Residents of the nearby community of Pasagshak have been warned to prepare for evacuation in event the winds change. The forecast calls for westerly winds calming a bit today, but still gusting to 40 mph. A small chance of rain is in tonight’s forecast, with a slightly greater chance Saturday.

This is a developing story, and we’ll update it as more information becomes available.