As newly-renovated Kaktovik school continues to burn, villagers express shock, officials say it’s ‘a total loss’

A Kaktovik Fire Department firetruck in the summer of 2019. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

The school in the North Slope village of Kaktovik is a “total loss” after a fire early Friday, according to a report by Anchorage station KTUU-TV.

Related: Kaktovik mourns burned school; workers were thawing pipes before the blaze

“Currently, we do not know the cause of the fire, but we do know the school was evacuated quickly and the fire department is still on site working hard to contain the fire that was reported around 3 a.m. earlier today,” North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr. said in a statement.

The school was a gathering place for the 250-person village, and it was connected to a recently-opened $16 million basketball gymnasium.

In a Facebook message posted at about 3:30 a.m., the borough wrote that everyone had been evacuated from the school and fire departments were currently trying to contain the fire. Local residents posted video and photos of the fire, showing tall bright orange flames across the dark early morning sky. 

Brower said there were no injuries to report as of 9 a.m. He said the weather, which dipped to 35 degrees below zero, has made fighting the fire difficult for first responders. Western winds between 16 and 18 miles per hour have hit the community all morning. 

“As I look out my window, the smoke is still going. It is still burning, as it has been very hard for firefighters to maintain, their equipment, hoses, air tanks keep freezing up and there is not much they can do in our freezing temperatures,” Katheryn Aishanna, the city clerk, wrote in a message just after 10 a.m.

Kaktovik is the easternmost village in the North Slope Borough, about 50 miles north of the Brooks Range. It’s the only village within the boundaries of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

“I’m in shock and in disbelief even though I see the videos and pictures. So many memories, so many,” wrote resident and teacher Flora Rexford on Facebook. “I will never get to walk the halls or get to replace what has been lost. So glad there’s no one hurt, but I grew up in that school, it’s my life and my home.”

Note: This is an ongoing story. Check back for updates.

Reporter Nat Herz contributed reporting from Anchorage.