Nine injured, homes destroyed in Interior village

Posted: Friday, May 19, 2000

FAIRBANKS --Nine people were injured and three houses destroyed Thursday in the Interior village of Beaver when wind whipped a controlled burn into a runaway blaze.

One of the nine suffered burns and the others smoke inhalation, said community health aide Cindy Wiehl. They were all flown to Fairbanks for medical treatment.

Beaver, population 120, is on the Yukon River about 100 miles north of Fairbanks.

None of the residents were in serious or critical condition, Wiehl said. At least 10 others with less severe symptoms were treated in the clinic.

``It's just chaos,'' she said.

The fire reportedly got loose shortly after noon Thursday when the wind shifted while one or more residents were doing a small controlled burn of dead grass and brush.

Wiehl said the entire community tried to save the homes, but that the fire was too hot to approach. They pumped water out of the Yukon to battle the flames.

``We even had elders on their snowmachines hauling snow,'' she said.

Eight state smokejumpers were sent to the scene, but by then the homes had burned to the ground.

The firefighters doused surrounding homes and vegetation to prevent the blaze from spreading to nearby woods.

``The fire burned the brush around the houses, but it didn't get into the wildlands,'' said Alaska Fire Service spokesman Andy Williams.

Two of the destroyed houses were cabins and one a federal Housing and Urban Development home.

``All three houses are three piles of rubble. It's really sad,'' Wiehl said.

Only one of the three affected families was in the village during the fire, Wiehl said. Freda Erick and her four children were staying at the community mission.

Paul and Lois Williams, who also lost a home, were visiting their daughter, who is graduating high school in Galena. Richard Williams and Anna Joseph, residents of the third destroyed home, spend winters in Fairbanks and were ready to return to Beaver, Wiehl said.

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