Students set Tuluksak school on fire

Tuluksak school cafeteria on January 18, 2019. (Krysti Shallenberger / KYUK)

The Tuluksak School is doing remote learning, but not because of COVID-19. Students set the school on fire.

When KYUK called Yupiit School District Superintendent Cassandra Bennett about the fire, soft music played in the background.

“That’s my spa relaxation radio,” she said, laughing.

A few days prior, on Oct. 6, Tuluksak students had climbed onto the roof of the school, stuffed something down a vent pipe and ignited it. It was about 8:30 p.m. and dark outside. One person was inside the school, a visiting administrator in town to train teachers.

“She was getting ready to go to sleep,” Bennett said, “and she heard a big boom, and from there the fire alarm went off, and that’s when people started rushing over.”

They had seen orange flames rising from the roof and run to help.

“The people in the Tuluksak community were absolutely wonderful,” Bennett said. “We used all the fire extinguishers in the building, so we’re having to replace those. And our maintenance crew, as well as other people in the community, were helping with getting water to pour it down into the pipe.”

Others turned off the generator and fuel system to prevent an explosion.

“We were able to put it out,” Bennett said. “I’m just really, really grateful and absolutely amazed at how this turned out, because that fire could have taken over the entire roof, and our school would be gone.”

People stayed on watch through the night, ready to respond if the fire rekindled or traveled within the walls. But it never did.

Bennett called the damage “minimal” and said the school’s insurance would cover it. The burned vent pipe will need to be replaced, but nothing else visibly burned, and there was no smoke or water damage. The sprinkler system never turned on.

Teachers have been holding remote classes since the fire. Bennett hopes a safety inspector will approve reopening the school before next week.

As far as the students who set the fire, Bennett said that they were younger than teenagers, and there were at least two of them. The school district has filed a report with state troopers.