FAIRBANKS — A fire destroyed the power plant and water treatment system in Birch Creek last week, leaving the small, rural village on the Yukon Flats without power for three days.
On Thursday, more than a week after the fire, the village of about 30 residents approximately 120 miles northeast of Fairbanks was still without potable water and phone service.
Power was restored to the village Sunday after workers from the Alaska Energy Authority hooked up a temporary generator, but not before a substantial amount of moose meat stored in freezers thawed, according to Angela Ludwick, chief operating officer in the village’s Fairbanks office.
“Their meat has all gone bad,” said Ludwick, who works for Arctic Resources Group, a tribal management service in Fairbanks. “They (freeze) a lot of moose meat; that’s their main source of meat.”
Cases of bottled water were being shipped into the community by Arctic Resources Group and Tanana Chiefs Conference, Ludwick said.
“Water is the big issue,” she said. “We’ve been sending cases of water up every few days. We’ve probably shipped up 40 or 50 cases of water.”
A fire in the early morning hours of May 26 destroyed the village’s three generators, the building they were housed in, the tribal office building and the water treatment system, all of which were connected. No one was hurt in the fire, which Alaska State Troopers said was caused by electrical wiring.
Troopers reported the fire to the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which in turn contacted the Alaska Energy Authority, according to Bryan Fisher, chief of operations for the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
The AEA sent two utility workers, who installed a temporary 35-kilowatt generator that restored power to the village early Sunday afternoon.
The village declared a disaster, asking for financial assistance Thursday. Fisher said the request will be forwarded to Gov. Sean Parnell.
The Tanana Chiefs Conference sent a team to Birch Creek on Tuesday to determine what needs to be done to restore water to the village, said Bill Justice, TCC’s environmental health director.
“Our concern is basically helping them get some kind of reasonable volume of water for bathing and whatever they need to do,” he said.
Justice expected TCC workers to have the village well running again today but said the water won’t be potable. Villagers will have to boil water to drink it, he said.
“The well house is still intact,” Justice said. “We’re going to find a way to energize the well pump and we’ll install a control box on the well. It will be like a campground where you go up and push a button or open a valve and water comes out.”
Justice said the village’s old water treatment system didn’t provide potable water, either, because it was so old. The old system was installed about 30 years ago.
The fire did not destroy the village’s washateria, which was separate from the other buildings and was where residents went to get their water. But Justice said the village voted to close the washateria before the fire occurred because there were no washers or dryers in it.
The village is exploring federal grants to get financial assistance, Ludwick said.
The village also plans to intensify its effort to get the state to convey ownership of the school building to the tribe, she said. Birch Creek’s school has been closed for 14 years because of low enrollment and could be used as a tribal office and multi-purpose facility, Ludwick said.
The village made a request to the Yukon Flats School District a couple years ago to convey the school to the tribe, she said.
“We’d really like that building,” Ludwick said. “It’s the soundest building up there. It’s a shame watching it sit there and rot.”
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.