Napakiak mourns after two prisoners die in jail fire

The Napakiak Public Safety building in September 2018.

The Napakiak Public Safety building in September 2018. The building burned, killing two inmates on April 28, 2019. (Photo by Anna Rose MacArthur/KYUK)

Two prisoners died early Sunday morning when flames engulfed the Napakiak jail.

Alaska State Troopers have tentatively identified the victims as Becca White and Isaiah Parka, both of Napakiak. Authorities are awaiting positive identification from the State Medical Examiner Office, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch.

Two jail guards escaped the blaze. Both were flown to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel for medical care. One guard was then flown out of state. Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters reports that he is “in serious but stable condition.” A trooper dispatch says that the guard sustained “significant injuries while attempting to free the two prisoners.”

The other jail guard told troopers that the fire began when one of the prisoners set fire to a mattress in a jail cell.

The Native Village of Napakiak operates the jail and employs the guards. Napakiak Tribal Administrator David Andrew did not want to comment on the accident.

Napakiak City Council member Walter Nelson told KYUK, “This is a big tragedy. The whole community is mourning. The fire happened so quickly. We tried our best to extinguish it, but it was so intense.”

Nelson said that more than 20 community members worked through the night to extinguish the blaze, using water pumped from the Kuskokwim River. The jail sits near the river, only one building over from the fire department.

Fire marshals, state troopers and an investigator with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation are examining the scene of the incident.

Napakiak City Administrator Leo Kusayak said that the community has been advised not to disturb the building’s remains until the investigation is complete. He said that the city owns a former National Guard armory building that could possibly be used as a jail until another building is constructed.

Kusayak described the victims as “best friends.”

Community leaders were expected to meet on Monday afternoon to discuss how to proceed following the fire.

Correction: In an earlier version, the photo caption above erroneously provided the date of May 28, 2019. The fire occurred on April 28, 2019.

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