Fire claims Bering Sea Restaurant
By Peter Loewi
At around 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 17, the Nome Volunteer Fire Department got a call about smoke at the Bering Sea Restaurant. When NVFD Chief Jim West Jr. made it to the scene, it was already billowing heavy smoke, and there were flames visible in the back of the building. “Strange, but true,” he said. “September 17 was also the day of the 1934 fire.”
Hearing that nobody was inside – three people were taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation but were released the same night – West said he didn’t want to risk lives and sent nobody into the fire. Initially, Engine 4 attacked it, and then Engine 9 was brought in on the east side and prevent spread to the Quick Stop convenience store. NVFD had trouble getting to the back of the building because the ongoing storm had washed out access. Nome Joint Utilities brought a loader to move sand, and the airport’s Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting vehicle provided support until Engine 7 could get behind the restaurant. To prevent spread of the flames, the firefighters used a backhoe to fold the burning building in on top of itself. While it created other issues with hotspots, he said, it protected the adjacent Nugget Inn hotel. All the roughly 15 people in the Inn at the time were safely evacuated. The first reported casualty of the storm in the region appears to be a dog that was in the Bering Sea building.
Initial reports suggest that the fire started in the basement, but West didn’t want to speculate on the cause of the fire. His job, he said, is putting the fire out, and insurance companies and the State’s Fire Marshall will investigate causes. What he did say, however, was that the old building had been grandfathered into code, and there was poor sheetrock in some areas, including none in the basement. There was a two-hour fire wall adjacent to the Nugget Inn, which remains partially intact. In addition to the building, two propane tanks, stored outside, burned, and a truck parked in the alley, gas, tires, and all, went up in flames, too. The building’s fuel tank was safely removed by a loader.
“When a disaster strikes, everyone pitches in,” West said. “I’m very, very thankful the community came together, and that it didn’t happen the night of the storm.” Two former fire chiefs, Wes Perkins and Matt Johnson, both came to fight the fire, as did around 10 retired members of the NVFD. “I have to admit, the guys did a very good job, working 11 hours, and managed the fire throughout the weekend.”
In total, 29 past and current members of the NVFD were on the scene, plus six EMTS on standby. The Nome Police Department directed traffic and guarded the Nugget Inn. Not only was the extra help used to combat the fire at the restaurant, but they checked on another call NVFD received that same night about smoke at the old Country Store, which turned out to be a false alarm.
West left the scene around 3 a.m. but was called back at 6 a.m. to deal with hot spots. The response was finally shut off on Monday.