ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Guards were unable to save two prisoners from a weekend fire that broke out in a village jail because they were driven out by heat and smoke, Alaska authorities said Monday.
One of two guards at the scene of the early Sunday morning fire in Napakiak was seriously injured trying to free the inmates, who died in the blaze. The other guard said a prisoner set fire to a mattress, but it was unclear how fire-starting materials got into a cell.
Troopers said the fire victims have been tentatively identified as 24-year-old Becca White and 22-year-old Isaiah Parka, both of Napakiak. But troopers said the identifications still need to be confirmed by the state medical examiner’s office.
A village leader said more than 20 residents worked through the night to extinguish the fire, using water pumped from the Kuskokwim River, KYUK Public Media in Bethel reported Monday.
“This is a big tragedy. The whole community is mourning,” Napakiak City Council member Walter Nelson told KYUK. “The fire happened so quickly. We tried our best to extinguish it, but it was so intense.”
Troopers did not release the name of the injured guard, saying only that that individual was flown out of state and is listed in serious condition.
A second guard was also transported for treatment, and troopers said that person ultimately did need further care. That guard reported the prisoner started the blaze.
Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said the cause is under investigation.
Peters said the names of the guards are not being released by troopers because they are witnesses and they are not employed by the state. She said the jail building is owned by the village and referred questions to officials there.
Napakiak Mayor Joann Slats declined to comment about the case. “We cannot give out information at this time,” she said.
Peters said the jail was not equipped with a sprinkler system and it was unknown if the building was equipped with smoke detectors. There were no reports of an alarm going off, she said.
Peters also said the victims had been taken into custody by tribal police, but she didn’t know for what. KYUK reported the two were in custody for driving a four-wheeler while intoxicated on Saturday afternoon.
Two state troopers from Bethel, two fire marshals from Anchorage and an investigator with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation traveled to Napakiak to investigate Sunday.
A 2018 survey of public safety facilities by the Association of Village Council Presidents found problems with windows, door locks and exterior stairs at Napakiak’s public safety building. Peters said the public safety building is not the same location as the jail and fire.
Napakiak is a Yup’ik community of about 380 people southwest of Bethel.
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