Yup’ik artifacts spared in Bethel school fire

Emergency crews remain onsite at the Kilbuck campus in Bethel after flames broke out early this morning, demolishing the school.

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“The actual immersion school is flat. The immersion school itself k-6 is not standing.”

CREDIT DEAN SWOPE / KYUK
CREDIT DEAN SWOPE / KYUK

Joshua Gill is with the Lower Kuskokwim School District. The immersion school is a charter elementary Yup’ik school.

Also destroyed are the operation and maintenance sections of the campus and the lockers holding the students’ school supplies.

The Bethel fire department received a call at 3:46 a.m. that sewer pipes outside the building were smoking. They responded immediately and attempted to contain the fire, but it had spread inside the building.

CREDIT DEAN SWOPE / KYUK
CREDIT DEAN SWOPE / KYUK

Excavators tore through the building, ripping the structure in half to isolate the flames to one wing of the school.

Backhoes also ripped sections away from the front part of the building to prevent flames from spreading to the adjacent armory, which stands intact.

Also standing is the wing housing the media center- containing Yup’ik artifacts and hundreds of Yup’ik elder interviews, though heavy smoke and water damage is expected.

But Gill says the Yup’ik instructional materials are lost:

“There was a lot of age in those materials and a lot of personal blood, sweat and tears put into them that we’re definitely not going to be able to replace. But until we get in there and assess, we really don’t know. That was all created in-house here in LKSD with our folks.”

CREDIT DEAN SWOPE / KYUK
CREDIT DEAN SWOPE / KYUK

The Kuskokwim Learning Academy school and dorms are standing but inoperable because of smoke and water damage. KLA is a residential, alternative high school.

Students evacuated the KLA dorms around 3:45 this morning after a fire alarm sounded. Most exited wearing pajamas.

Personnel transferred the students to a school district building where social workers are offering counseling.

Meanwhile, the Bethel community has mobilized. Organizations are gathering supplies for donations and offering buildings to serve as temporary classrooms. And the community pool opened its doors to the displaced students for the day.

Emergency efforts are ongoing. No injuries are yet reported.