Chevak Company Corporation President Roy Atchak’s office is on the second floor of a building in Chevak that was entirely engulfed in flames on Monday.
“I’m glad there was only a couple of workers in there at the time it was starting up. We were just going to work,” Atchak said. He was late to work because he was having trouble with his Toyo stove at home.
The local hardware store took up the bottom half of the building. It was owned and operated by the corporation. Shelves were stocked with propane, ammunition, and other highly volatile supplies. And without adequate firefighting equipment to extinguish the blaze, Chevak’s public safety team decided to let the fire burn.
“It’s very important,” said Justina Cholok, who was born and raised in Chevak and works at the corporation’s grocery store just down the street. “People get stuff like washers, dryers, fridge, beds, bed frames, ammo, propane.”
She said that the hardware store was where residents could buy home appliances, parts for snowmachines and four-wheelers, motor oil, and other supplies.
Chevak’s corporation headquarters took up the building’s second floor, one of the largest in the village of nearly 1,000 residents. A landmark for decades, it was visible from almost anywhere.
“It’s gonna be weird going that way because we’re not gonna see that building no more,” said Cholok.
It’s unclear exactly what started the fire that totaled the building.
“It might have started around the furnace or Toyo stove,” Atchak said.
A cold snap has impacted most of the state of Alaska for the past week. Atchak believes that subzero temperatures in Chevak may have contributed to the cause of the blaze.
“Nowadays in villages I know they’re having problems with Toyo stoves, you know: too cold and might have been overworking. I am just speculating without the fire marshal’s verification on what really happened,” he said.
As of Monday afternoon, the electricity was out to one section of the community, and residents who live in about a dozen homes were evacuated to the local school. Peter Tuluk, the general manager of the community’s local public radio station, KCUK, said that the station was briefly off the air. The station also serves two other nearby villages: Scammon Bay and Hooper Bay.
Three years ago, fire destroyed an old school building Chevak residents planned to renovate into a community center. In the fall of 2022, Typhoon Merbok damaged nearly all of Chevak’s boats and had a heavy impact on food security in the village. Atchak said that no community is immune to disaster.
“Cup’ik people, they go through hardship in life,” Atchak said. “At the same time, they don’t look back and say, ‘Okay, well I had that, I had this.’ But you just recover, and rebuild, and keep going forward, you know. There’s no such thing as stopping.”
He said that’s a Cup’ik value.
According to Atchak, it will be about a week before he has a plan to to set up a temporary office for the corporation. He said that it will be a few months before corporate operations can resume. There’s no plan yet for a new hardware store.