The Tuluksak School is doing remote learning. Not because of COVID-19, but because students set fire to the school.
Yupiit School District Superintendent Cassandra Bennett has had a busy week. When KYUK called her 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 saw the orange flames rising from the roof and ran to help.
“The people in the Tuluksak community were absolutely wonderful. We used all the fire extinguishers in the building, so we’re having to replace those," Bennett said. "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.
Throughout the night, people remained on watch, ready to respond if the fire rekindled, or if it traveled within the walls. But it never did.
“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,” Bennett said.
Bennett calls the damage “minimal.” The burned vent pipe will need to be replaced, but nothing else visibly burned, and there is no smoke or water damage. The sprinkler system never turned on.
State Education Commissioner Michael Johnson called the school superintendent to offer his support. Bennett said that the school’s insurance will cover the damage. Teachers have been holding remote classes since the fire. Bennett hopes that a safety inspector will be able to okay the school to reopen 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.