Grass Fire in Galena Destroys Musher's Home
FAIRBANKS — A grass fire in the Yukon River village of Galena destroyed the home of musher Carlson Malemute and damaged the exterior of a nearby log cabin before it was brought under control with the help of more than 100 community members.
According to Galena assistant fire chief Tim Bodony, Malemute, 66, was cooking for his dogs in his backyard, heating water over a quarter barrel wood fire and left the area.
“We don’t know whether the fire was started from the wind blowing a (burning) leaf or one ember,” Bodony said. “Whatever happened, the fire got out of control and the wind turned it toward the house.”
One of Malemute’s sled dogs died in the fire, and an injured dog was flown out to a Fairbanks veterinarian for treatment. Fortunately, another dozen or more dogs were temporarily staked farther away and survived.
The fire call came in about 1:30 p.m. and it was another three hours of concentrated work before the fire was out. However, fire gear was left at the scene in case of a flare up, and a neighborhood watch is in place, Bodony said.
Malemute’s home in the 600-person Yukon River community, 270 air miles west of Fairbanks, was located in a part of town without fire hydrants. That combined with operational problems with water pumps, hindered early progress in quelling the blaze, Bodony said.
“The neighboring house was saved only by the grave effort of a lot of people,” Bodony said. “My hat is off to everyone for dropping whatever they were doing and showing up. Probably 100 people showed up.
“It was a heartbreaking scene, but I am encouraged by the community working together and improvising to get water to the site,” he said.
Before fire tankers reached the scene, Bodony said people were using whatever was at hand to throw on the flames, dipping into nearby puddles and hauling plastic barrels with water from nearby homes.
Fire personnel and equipment from the city of Galena, BLM and Department of Transportation also assisted, working alongside residents and others removing sled dogs from the area.
Damage to the nearby unoccupied log cabin was limited to scorched logs on the exterior and some damage to the attic, Bodony said. Its owner, Marvin Thurmond, was in the process of remodeling the interior of the rental cabin at the time of the fire.
“This the one of the most dangerous times of the year for wildfires,” Bodony said, adding that greenup in Galena isn’t expected for a few more weeks.
Wednesday’s blaze was the second time in four months Galena residents responded and fought a losing battle against a fast growing fire.
On Jan. 22, fire destroyed an unattached two-story shop at the Sidney C. Huntington School despite the community’s valiant efforts to save the building in minus 50 degree temperatures. Classes in the nearby building of the K-12 school were not interrupted.
Malemute, a ramp worker for ERA Aviation, lived alone, but has been offered places to stay in the community, his daughter, Carlee, said.
His immediate needs are clothing and especially food for his dogs, his daughter said.
Malemute clothing sizes are large shirts, 34/30 pants, size 10 shoes.
All of his household contents and winter clothing were lost in the fire.
ERA will fly all donations for Malemute to Galena free of charge.
The community is meeting today to plan a fundraiser for Malemute.
For more information, contact Carlee Malemute at 388-3399.
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.