780 AM | 96.1 FM | “Yours for Western Alaska”

Early Morning Fire in Teller: Three Structures Collapse and Loader Explodes

In the early morning hours, a three-building fire in Teller caused the Nome Volunteer Fire Department to respond – first with a planeload of six firefighters and later with several vehicles loaded with crew and equipment.

The first group of firefighters arrived in Teller just before 5 o’clock this morning. The fire, burning since around 2AM, had engulfed the old Teller Commercial Company building, the former store known as the Blodgett Building, as well as an old abandoned house next to it. The flames had also spread to the Mary’s Igloo office, and were threatening the Teller Catholic Church, as well as the community power plant.

The wind was also begging to bring smoke to buildings adjacent to the fire. Many of those buildings were abandoned, described as “tinderboxes” by firemen on the scene. Nome Fire Chief Matt Johnson:

We took a two-story structure with a loader and pushed it under the pile so that it would stop the fire spread to the Catholic church and the power plant.

Additional Nome firefighters arrived around 7am. Johnson says they used a City of Teller loader to tear down three buildings and move other structures away from the fire. NVFD turned its hoses onto the church and used the loader to move flaming debris away from it. But then Johnson says the loader itself caught fire.

It fell into a utilidor that’s buried in the ground and it was unable to get back out and fortunately the firefighter that was operating it was able to get out OK and unfortunately we lost a loader, but we didn’t lose anybody.

The loader eventually exploded—first the fuel tank, and then the tires—and it was completely gutted by the fire.

Johnson says the blaze was fully contained around 9am. No injuries were reported. NVFD is now using heavy equipment from the City of Teller to move charred debris and extinguish any remaining hazards.

We started out early with a real small crew and we had to work really hard and do a lot of stuff in a short period of time with a small group of people. I gotta hand it to the people of Teller too. The people that helped us out too…there were quite a few younger guys that were helping us move hoses around and equipment for us and everything else. They were trying.

Johnson says the Fire Marshall is determining how they will get investigators to Teller. Until then, Johnson and his crew are securing the perimeter of the fire and treating it as crime scene. He says it will be up to the Fire Marshall’s office to determine the fire’s cause.