Crystal Lake hatchery building, eggs destroyed in fire

(Photo courtesy Doug Fleming, ADF&G)

(Photo courtesy Doug Fleming, ADF&G)

Fire destroyed a salmon incubation building and over a million eggs at Crystal Lake Hatchery on Mitkof Island south of Petersburg early Tuesday morning.

Volunteer fire department spokesman Dave Berg said the call came in around 2:30 Tuesday morning. He says the department decided to send one truck to the site, almost 18 miles south of Petersburg.

“When our truck got out there with our senior fire officers they discovered that indeed the building was fully engulfed and they went into defensive mode with hose lines off of the truck, they drafted water and were able to keep the sections of the building that keep the fuel tanks cool and so there was no spill to our knowledge but the building was a total loss.”

He noted that the fire department wanted to keep some engines and resources in town in case of another fire in Petersburg. “We certainly appreciate all of the volunteers who showed up and hopefully people understand the importance of keeping the crew and resources in town in case something happens here. We can’t, in an area, especially with a long response time like it would be to 18-mile, it would be real difficult to put out a fire that had a good seat on it and save a structure that was that far away so I’m just glad no one was hurt.”

The assistant state fire marshal is in town this week on other business and is investigating the cause of the fire. No injuries were reported.

The hatchery buildings are owned by the state of Alaska and the hatchery is operated by the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, based in Ketchikan. It produces king and coho salmon.John Burke is general manager with the regional non-profit hatchery association. He says the incubation room burned down and fuel tanks and generator room were also damaged in the blaze.

“Well basically the incubation room is the hatchery itself. So right now the eggs in the hatchery are pretty well, or a good part of the eggs in the hatchery are pretty well destroyed right now. And those would include the Chickamin stock fish that we take back to Neets Bay and they would include some of the Andrews Creek fish that we were scheduled to release at City Creek there in Petersburg as well as at Anita Bay. Now these aren’t this year’s releases they would be the releases in 2015.”

Anita Bay is near Wrangell and Neets Bay is between Wrangell and Ketchikan. SSRAA’s eggs were originally taken from the Chickamin River near Ketchikan and Andrews Creek, a tributary of the Stikine River near Wrangell.

Burke estimated around 1.2-1.3 million eggs were lost and does not think it will be possible to replace them from another hatchery facility. He thinks the loss to commercial fishing fleets could be valued over $1 million. Burke hoped SSRAA can rebuild the incubation room.

“It doesn’t mean this is a good situation but it would be trying to make the best out of what is a bad situation. So we would try to replace what’s there. We will try to get it fixed either there or go somewhere else, so we can take eggs there this August when we normally would. We would like to keep the program going and we think we can do that.”

Some of the 2015 eggs had already been moved from the incubation building and escaped the fire. Burke said the most important thing is that no one was injured.