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Bethel asks governor to declare emergency, allocate funds for school fire recovery


BETHEL, Alaska — Bethel council members are asking the state to help the city recover from a school fire.

The Kilbuck building fire burned for 12 hours on Nov. 3, destroying a Yup'ik immersion school and damaging the Kuskokwim Learning Academy, KYUK-AM in Bethel reported (http://bit.ly/1Ny9ic3).

The city council has declared a local government disaster.

Officials want Gov. Bill Walker to declare a state of emergency so that funds can be allocated for recovery. Walker said at the time of his visit to the site of the fire last week that his staff anticipated Bethel's declaration.

Funds would help repair equipment and rebuild the school, which contained asbestos. Bethel needs to hire certified crews to clear the debris.

City Manager Ann Capela and the Department of Homeland Security drafted the declaration. She said the fire is an opportunity for the city to consider amendments to its municipal code to require signage on buildings that contain asbestos.

"It's certainly opened our eyes on having the ability to know what is in the building when you're fighting the fire," Capela said.

Emergency crews may have been exposed to the carcinogenic mineral while fighting the fire. Capela said lead and a type of toxic compound could also be present at the site.

Capela met with the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Section, health officials and others to discuss cleaning up as well as options for employees.

"The site is secured, and the site is in possession of the school district. So the school district is the lead on that," Capela said. "We, the city, stand ready to assist. And our first responsibility is to our employees. We will act in accordance with OSHA and notify and do any communications with our employees."

Information from: KYUK-AM, http://www.kyuk.org

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