15 Years Ago in the Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman
Fire destroys Dillingham dwelling
October 11, 2001
By Erik Hillstrom
Bristol Bay Times
A fast-moving structure fire on Sunday, Sept. 30, had Dillingham volunteer firefighters on the spot in approximately three minutes.
However, even the speedy response time on the part of volunteers to the scene across from the Squaw Creek Boat Yard, could not hinder the progress of the smoldering blaze.
"There was total loss of the structure," said Assistant Fire Chief Malcolm Wright. "It was such a fast-moving fire, that it took us probably 20 to 30 minutes to get it completely under control. The family who owned the building had essentially abandoned it and was using it as storage, but it was completely gutted."
The hot-burning fire kept firefighters on the scene for more than two hours. No foul play is suspected.
"It appears that this was an accident," Wright said. "Family members told us that it was accidental, and that perhaps a firecracker that had not gone off, and was still lit, may have caused it. That's what we were told."
The fire not only fully engulfed the structure, but torched a vehicle parked near the cabin and moved with lightning speed.
"The person who reported the fire said they called when they had noticed smoke coming from the building," Wright said. "They were actually still on the phone, and it was still smoldering. When we arrived at the scene, they said in one or two minutes it become completely inflamed. So the fire would have been smoldering and growing for a while, until it burst into flames."
Old dwellings, such as the one destroyed, usually don't need the aid of chemicals or extra fuels to help them ignite. Though there were some household-type chemicals in the cabin, the blaze moved speedily through the building, which offered itself as fuel.
"This was a pretty old structure," Wright said. "There was no sheetrock. It was basically all wood, just rafters and plywood. That kind of thing will usually go pretty fast."
Though wildfire season may be over in most parts of the country, Alaska, and Southwest in particular, is on the verge of yet another fire season — indoor fire season.
"If folks haven't already done it, they should clean their chimneys on their wood-burning stoves and fireplaces," Wright said. "It's also a good time to check all heating, systems. It's a good idea to clean and service any indoor heat sources." Whether it's dusting the lint off the back of the Toyo stove, or cleaning creosote from a clogged chimney, Wright added that doing the work now would help prepare for the coming months when snow slows things down.
"This is the time when we start to see fires related to wood stoves and heaters," Wright said. "It's usually in the early part of the season. This fire, though, was just carelessness."