Kasigluk’s only store burns down

About 50 buildings next to an airstrip and some rivers as seen from the air.
Kasigluk, Alaska (Photo from Creative Commons)

The only store the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta village of Kasigluk burned down on the night of Sept. 10, leaving residents without a place in town to buy groceries, clothes, and other supplies. The community is locked down to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, which meant that Kasigluk couldn’t get help from nearby villages to fight the flames.

Kasigluk Police Chief Brian Noratak’s long night began around 7 p.m. on Sept. 10. He was in the police station when he heard the store’s fire alarm go off.

“And [it’s] only less than a minute to walk to the store from the police station,” Noratak said.

When Noratak arrived, he saw smoke billowing from the building. The store had been closed for less than an hour.

“It started in the office. I know the office area, the entrance, and then it worked its way back towards the back of the store,” Noratak said.

Noratak got on the VHF radio and asked Kasigluk residents to come fight the fire. In normal times, Noratak would have also called out to the nearby villages of Nunapitchuk and Atmautluak. But these are not normal times, as the coronavirus positive case numbers rise nationwide and in the Y-K Delta. Kasigluk has shut its doors to non-residents to keep the virus from spreading, and that meant that it couldn’t ask its neighbors for help.

A Kasigluk resident told KYUK that the village was especially concerned about the number of positive cases in Nunapitchuk, the village closest to Kasigluk. Nunapitchuk has also locked down.

Noratak said that he did ask Atmautluak for extra water hoses. Residents boated over to bring them, but it was Kasigluk residents who fought the flames, including people who were in quarantine. Noratak said that he’s proud of his community.

“I’d like to commend people that helped out a lot because they did it without no fire gear. They, just with their clothes on their back. Can’t say names, as it was too much running around trying to get it over with, but we eventually got it contained,” Noratak said.

The burning store stood roughly 40 feet from the post office, and a few dozen feet from the hardware store and warehouse, but those buildings were all spared. It was 3 a.m. on Sept. 11 when Noratak finally got to bed. He said that almost everything in the store burned: groceries, electronics, and clothes. Noratak said that he’s not sure how the blaze began, but the store’s owners are investigating.

Meanwhile, residents will have to travel to Atmautluak or Bethel for groceries and supplies, or rely on airlines to deliver orders until a new store opens.

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