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Newtok’s school loses power plant in fire

Katie Basile

The Western Alaska village of Newtok has lost power at its local school due to a Thursday fire, according to state officials.

The fire, in the community of about 200 people roughly 95 miles northwest of Bethel, was described in a Friday situation report from the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The Ayaprun School’s power plant was destroyed in the blaze, which took place at about 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

“The school is not connected to the village power source and the community is working with the Lower Kuskokwim School District to provide a temporary generator to keep heat and water on in the school,” state officials wrote. “The Native Village of Newtok washeteria is not working and residents have been using Ayaprun School as their water source.”

Division spokesman Jeremy Zidek said that further information on the fire and its aftermath was pending Friday morning.

“We’re working with the community and trying to see what the solution to the problem is,” Zidek said.

A call to district staff wasn’t immediately returned Friday morning.

Thursday’s power loss was the second reported in the region this week, Zidek said, after an outage in Hooper Bay about 65 miles northwest of Newtok.

Bill Stamm, the president of the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, said that outage started Sunday when the local generator ran out of fuel.

“The day tank was run dry – plant operators did not respond to fill the day tank, so the engines went down,” Stamm said.

As work continued to restore power, a feeder circuit breaker serving much of the community of about 1,300 people couldn’t readily be closed. Workers discovered that was due to a power line coming off one of its insulators.

AVEC flew a lineman to Hooper Bay, who was able to restore power by Tuesday afternoon. Some follow-up work was in progress to balance electrical loads on the local system.

“That effort continues today, but right now all power is restored,” Stamm said. “Nobody’s running on generators or anything like that.”

Zidek said power outages in the region are common during the winter months, due to factors including long distances, sparse population and infrastructure recently strained by the remnants of Typhoon Merbok.

[RELATED: As the storm raged, a mad rush to keep the power on in Hooper Bay]

“Every year during this time, we have power and water issues in western Alaska,” Zidek said. “They’re just kind of far-flung systems and they don’t have full-time linemen in a lot of these communities.”
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Chris Klint, Alaska Public Media - Anchorage