Governor declares Hooper Bay a disaster area in wake of fire

Murkowski grants status during visit, skips long process

Posted: Tuesday, August 08, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Frank Murkowski declared fire-ravaged Hooper Bay a state disaster area after visiting the Western Alaska village with other state officials, he said Monday.

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Murkowski said he issued the declaration on the spot while touring the Yupik Eskimo community of 1,100 Sunday instead of going through the usual slower process.

"There is no question this is a disaster," he said during a teleconference with reporters.

The declaration frees up state financial assistance and allows the state to seek a federal disaster declaration.

About 250 residents fled the massive fire that burned a 15-acre swath on Thursday. The blaze burned 35 structures and came within 300 feet of the fuel tanks before being knocked down by residents and firefighters from around Alaska.

No one was injured but 12 homes were destroyed, leaving 65 people homeless. The displaced residents are staying with relatives in the village.

The fire started in the elementary school, then spread to the nearby high school and other buildings. A new school is being built, but is a long way from completion, although the construction schedule is being stepped up.

State officials also are looking into securing modular buildings to use until the new school is ready, Murkowski said.

The state fire marshal's office and Alaska State Troopers were wrapping up their investigation Monday into the cause of the fire, trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.

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