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By Daily News Staff
An overnight fire destroyed a structure intended for a future kelp/oyster hatchery at OceansAlaska's site at George Inlet.
The cause of the fire, which was first reported after 9 a.m. Friday, remains under investigation, according to an OceansAlaska statement issued late Friday afternoon.
The OceansAlaska statement expressed thanks for the quick response of all of the local fire departments, Alaska State Troopers and a village public safety officer.
“We are also grateful, that as far as we know, nobody was hurt nor other properties damaged,” according to the statement.
OceansAlaska is a Ketchikan-based nonprofit corporation with a mission of expanding “mariculture and wild stock enhancement for oysters, geoducks, sea cucumbers and kelp in Alaska by making commercial quantities of seed available.”
Friday's statement described the the situation as a “setback.”
”OceansAlaska plans on rebuilding as soon as possible,” according to the statement.
The situation was discovered when an OceansAlaska worker arrived at the site around mile 10 South Tongass Highway on Friday morning and found the 30-foot by 50-foot, two-story structure burned, according to South Tongass Volunteer Fire Department Lt. Corey Padrón. The worker drove to a STVFD station and reported the fire there.
“(He said) it looked like it had been burning all night and was still smoldering,” said Padrón, who served as the incident commander in thr response.
The report was “toned out” to area responders.
South Tongass Fire Chief Steve Rydeen said that when they showed up at 9:26 a.m. Friday, the structure was collapsed and smoldering.
An individual who volunteers with STVFD and also works with Guardian Flight and had seen some smoke on the water in the general area while flying over at about 2 a.m. Friday, but didn't see anything else according to Rydeen and Padrón.
“He noted that there was smoke in the area, not a specific location,” Padrón said. “It was more like when you see a haze of smoke over an entire area.”
At the scene, responders set up a portable water container, or “pumpkin,” at the pullout above the driveway leading down to the property. Using hose, they drafted water from the pumpkin and fed it further down the hill into another engine, which then fed water into another hose length used to disperse the water.
The challenge with this relay, is that the 600 feet of hose and water was running downhill, so the engine's job was to slow down the rate of water flow to the nozzle, so firefighters could manage it easier, according to Padrón.
Responders called in tanker support from the North Tongass Volunteer Fire Department to assist with water.
Three tankers were involved in the process, one of them running back and forth between a Herring Cove hydrant and the scene to refill the pumpkin, according to Padrón. He said water was being used as a cooling agent to mist and “pencil” around debris, but most of the water used was not put on the structure.
In all, Padrón estimated that between 9,000 and 10,000 gallons of water was laid around the perimeter of the structure and the surrounding hillside.
He said Cape Fox Corp. provided the use of a backhoe that was used to lift up metal roofing and move from the collapsed strucutre so that firefighters could access the overall fire scene.
“Without that backhoe, it would have been much, much harder for the guys,” said Padrón, who expressed a “big thank you” to Cape Fox.
By 1 p.m. the hose had been wrapped up, the pumpkin folded up and the fire investigator team was meticulously spreading out the debris to determine the source of the fire.
The onsite investigation concluded at 5:30 p.m. and the scene was turned over to the owners, according to Rydeen. The cause of the fire is still being determined.
Padrón said they used almost every piece of equipment they had, including the rehab vehicle to keep the firefighters hydrated and in safe working range.
“The great thing about our incidents is all three (fire) departments respond,” Padrón said.
He added that about six fire department volunteers assisted, and that Ketchikan Fire Department Assistant Chief Scott Brainard was a great help during the response.
Daily News staff writers Sam Allen and Scott Bowlen contributed to this story.