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Following reports of heating system issues, Vitus confirms poor-performing fuel was sold to customers in Bethel

A Laser 73 Toyostove sits in a home in Bethel in 2021.
Katie Basile
A Laser 73 Toyostove sits in a home in Bethel in 2021.

Amid dozens of social media reports of malfunctioning heating systems across Bethel, Vitus Energy CEO Mark Smith has confirmed that an undetermined amount of home heating fuel not suited to extreme cold temperatures was distributed to Bethel customers at some point before Christmas.

"Some Vitus customers have experienced outages related to poor cold weather performance of No. 1 heating fuel. Vitus has confirmed a specific parcel of fuel related to these recent deliveries," Smith said.

While bitter cold holiday temperatures in Bethel that dropped to nearly 30 below zero Fahrenheit on Christmas already strained home heating systems, numerous social media posts in recent days mentioned a thickening up of heating fuel and subsequent failure of heating systems, especially the small, efficient, and popular Toyotomi Toyostoves.

Grant Fairbanks is a local Toyostove dealer and was among the first to bring attention to the issue on Facebook.

"A couple of days before Christmas, I started having a lot of phone calls with people having error codes on their Toyostoves," Fairbanks said. "And I had heard from a friend of mine who works on heating systems here in Bethel that he'd been replacing a lot of fuel filters because they're full of white, cloudy, waxy gel. And so I knew that something was wrong."

On Dec. 27, Smith said that the company was still working to track down the exact source and quantity of the heating fuel that was distributed to an unknown number of customers in Bethel. He said that as of Christmas Day, the company was no longer distributing the poor-performing fuel in Bethel.

"Our current delivery product is being sourced from inventory with confirmed superior cold flow properties," Smith said.

Smith said that the company had received dozens of complaints from Bethel customers regarding the heating fuel, which thickened and congealed inside heating systems. Smith said that Vitus technicians had been making house calls to customers in Bethel, and would continue to do so in the coming days as needed.

The total number of Vitus customers in Bethel and other Kuskokwim River communities affected by the heating fuel deliveries remains unknown. Affected customers can call Vitus at 907-570-8413.

Evan Erickson is a reporter at KYUK who has previously worked as a copy editor, audio engineer and freelance journalist.
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