Firefighters work to extinguish the wood-fire boiler room at the Kasaan school (photo courtesy of Shane Scamahorn).

A fire that broke out on Monday at the Barry Craig Stewart Kasaan School destroyed an adjacent boiler building, but no one was injured and the school building was saved.

Nick Higson, assistant superintendent of Southeast Island School District, says the fire started at about 4:15 p.m. in a structure housing a wood-fire boiler adjacent to the school. Higson says volunteer firefighters responded, but by time they arrived, the blaze was out of control.

“They did an amazing job. Zach West is the fire chief and VPSO out in Kasaan. Huge, huge kudos to him for coordinating the efforts. Shane Scamahorn is the lead teacher in Kasaan. He was amazing. He kept calm under pressure and kept us informed of what was going on. Between him and Zach, they lead the charge and they saved the school to be quite honest with you.”

He says Tony Savage, who works for the Organized Village of Kasaan, came up with a creative way of protecting the school.

“He brought an excavator down and literally pulled the building away from the school so that it would not burn the school down. So in my eyes, these three, especially Tony, (with) innovative thinking and I don’t know who told him to do that, but they’re heroes.  We might not have a school today without these guys’ actions.”

Higson says many others from Kasaan helped in the effort.

The wood boiler is the primary heat source for the school, but Higson says there is a secondary oil- fire boiler.  He says that boiler heats only the school.  The aquaponics greenhouse now is without heat, but Higson says that is not an immediate concern.

“We actually moved the fish, because we had an issue within the greenhouse with circulation of the water. So we moved the fish and we moved the plants so the greenhouse has been shut down for almost a month now. So it’s not going to affect anything in there right now.”

Higson says the biomass boiler is more economical and environmentally friendly than the oil boiler, and a local, renewable resource is used to fuel it. He says the district plans to replace the wood fire boiler, but he’s not certain how long that will take.

Though the school building isn’t damaged, Higson says smoke did enter the school, so classes will be held elsewhere for about a week.  He says elementary grades are holding classes at the Kasaan library.  Older students are going to Thorne Bay. Higson says because of a landslide blocking the main road between Kasaan and Thorne Bay, the drive takes about an hour and a half each way using forest roads. Higson says students and staff are adapting to the situation well.

The cause of the fire is unknown and currently under investigation.