Interior windstorm starts fires and briefly knocks out 911 service

A tree rests against the roof of a two-story house, crushing part of it
In the Ester hills, outside of Fairbanks, strong winds on Monday, July 25, 2022, knocked over trees, some toppled onto homes and others onto powerlines, causing widespread outages. (Photo courtesy of Bob Grove)

Line crews worked through the night after high winds in the Tanana Valley on Monday downed trees and broke power lines, causing several fires and widespread power outages across Fairbanks.

The blackouts affected 30,000 Golden Valley Electric Association customers, including the central emergency communications dispatch for the entire region.  

At one point the Fairbanks Emergency Communications Center sent subscribers an alert saying there was no 911 service for much of the Interior, but the service was restored about 45 minutes later.

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital lost primary power but is supported by three backup generators.

“The main power went off and it triggered the generator power. So they were completely fine. They were up and running, and GVEA had them up and running,” said Nancy Durham, the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s emergency manager.

Several area fire departments responded to fires that started when trees pulled down power lines. Alaska Forestry firefighters responded to a wildfire overnight west of Fairbanks. Fire information officer Sam Harrell says it started by a tree downing a power line in the Standard Creek Road area.

Harrell says there were also fires near Cripple Creek west of Fairbanks.

A fire nearly started at the home of Frank Chythlook when a huge white spruce tree came down right next to his house, taking power lines with it.

“I heard this crack, and it came down on top of a power line. It was kind of like, suspended by this power line, not quite touching the ground. I was glad that it didn’t blow the other way and crush the house,” he said.

Chythlook said a fire crew monitored the situation and kept people from approaching.

“After GVEA was called, they said, ‘hey, try to stay 300 feet away from a downed power line. I took that pretty seriously,” he said.

Renicka Gober was luckier — there were no power lines near the tree in her front yard — but a 40-foot black spruce broke off near its base and wrapped itself over her roof, breaking again at the apex. She was inside with her grandchildren eating dinner when it happened.

“I just heard the crackling of the tree and boom, it just fell over on top of my roof. And, uh, yeah, we were pretty scared. Neighbors came over to kind of check on us, you know, made sure that we were okay, which we were. You know, here I am, trying to figure out the next move on how to get the tree off of my roof,” she said.

This is the second region-wide power outage in the Interior in as many weeks.

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