Alaska Digest

Posted: Friday, August 04, 2006

Hooper Bay homes evacuated due to fire

ANCHORAGE - An old school in the Western Alaska village of Hooper Bay caught fire Thursday, creating a blaze that raced through the remote Eskimo community, engulfing homes and buildings in its path, forcing dozens of people to flee.

With the fire roaring undeterred, local police quickly evacuated about 250 people from burned and threatened homes. No injuries were reported among the 1,100 residents.

The school and nearby buildings burned to the ground, said Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Bill Tandeske. At least 12 homes, a teacher housing complex and one of two village convenience stores also burned, sending up clouds of black smoke.

"I can see the flames of the store burning," Emma Bunyan said in a phone interview from her home a half mile from the blaze. "I can hear the ammunition in the store popping, too."

Alaska State Troopers and firefighters flew to the remote village and the state Division of Forestry sent a water-dropping helicopter and air tanker. Firefighters from the nearby village of Chevak arrived earlier and were the first to battle the blaze. The American Red Cross of Alaska also expected to send volunteers there.

A new school across the village is under construction to replace the one that burned Thursday in Hooper Bay. But construction wasn't expected to be completed until January, Bunyan said.

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"Our kids have no school now," she said. "I don't know what they're going to do when school opens in a few weeks."

Tanana man sentenced in shooting death

FAIRBANKS - A Tanana man has been sentenced to four years in prison for fatally shooting a friend while he was intoxicated and high on cocaine and marijuana.

Carl Erhart, who was sentenced Wednesday, pleaded no contest in January to manslaughter in connection with the June 2005 death of 18-year-old Lawrence Kennedy.

Erhart shot and killed Kennedy with a rifle while joking about what he would do if a bear or Bigfoot approached their fishing cabin outside Tanana. Erhart had said in court that the shooting was accidental.

"I feel great remorse for what I have done," Erhart said. "It is the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep."

The sentence came after requests from Erhart and his sister-in-law for a leniency so that Erhart could work to support his family and contribute to the support of Kennedy's two children.

Kennedy's relatives also spoke, expressing anger at Erhart and reflecting on the shooting's effect on the community. Tanana is a village of less than 300 people located 130 miles west of Fairbanks.

"It's been a really, really hard time," said Marilyn Kennedy Adams. "I am sorry for my nephew, who had to be put in the ground. I am sorry for the Erhart family. I am sorry for all of us."

King Salmon hotel a total loss after fire

ANCHORAGE - A fire engulfed the lone hotel in the town of King Salmon on Thursday, turning it into a pile of ash and smoldering wood, officials said.

No one was hurt in the blaze that burned the Quinnat Landing Hotel to the ground. The hotel on the banks of the Naknek River catered to sport fishermen, hunters and tourists en route to bear viewing at nearby Katmai National Park.

Two guests and a handful of employees escaped from the 48-room hotel after the fire started, said owner David McGuire.

The fire engulfed the two-story building amid high winds and despite a steady downpour, witnesses said.

"There was smoke billowing out the windows. It broke out of the roof and then started working its way down to the hotel rooms," said Tiffany McFarland, a part-time bartender at the hotel. "The whole building's gone."

Officials on Thursday said it was unclear how the fire started.

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