BIA building near Bethel could burn for up to two days, fire chief says

An abandoned Bureau of Indian Affairs building on the outskirts of Bethel caught fire on April 15, 2018. (Photo by Teresa Cotsirilos/KYUK)
An abandoned Bureau of Indian Affairs building on the outskirts of Bethel caught fire on April 15, 2018. (Photo by Teresa Cotsirilos/KYUK)

An abandoned Bureau of Indian Affairs school building on the outskirts of Bethel caught fire this weekend and could burn for a long time.

The fire was reported to Bethel Fire Department about 7 a.m. Sunday morning, Fire Chief Bill Howell said.

He suspects the building had been burning for several hours and decided to let the fire burn itself out, which could take another two days.

“We’re not interested in risking our firefighters’ lives to save an abandoned building,” he said.

This fire isn’t a risk to the community, Howell said.

The abandoned building is a good 10-minute drive from Bethel’s city center and people aren’t living or squatting nearby.

Howell said that there’s no real risk of the fire spreading: the nearby brush has been cleared; the trees are damp; and the building is ringed by 2 feet of snow.

But the fire has chewed its way through the BIA building’s roof, so it would be dangerous for Howell’s crew to fight it.

The best thing to do, he said, is just let the building be consumed.

The derelict building complex used to be home to a BIA school.

The fire started near the old cafeteria, Howell said.

The building caught fire at least once in the past, in 2001. The building also was rife with asbestos, which Howell said was cleared out by the federal government more than 15 years ago.

“I would encourage the public to stay away from the site,” Howell said. “The site is not secure.”

The Bethel Fire Department doesn’t know how the fire started, but Howell suspects that it was caused by humans. He doesn’t know yet whether it was set intentionally.

KYUK - Bethel

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