The class of 27 students was on an annual class trip to the island for outdoor survival education. When learning about signal flares, a civilian flare was fired out over the sea. Because of the powerful winds, it was blown back onto the island and into the grass.
“During the flare demonstration they didn’t realize the high winds were going,” Peterson principal Beth Cole said. “The fathers there tried to stomp it out, but the fire quickly got out of hand. At that point 911 was called.”
As soon as the fire started students were moved away from the site to bunkhouses. The parents, some of them off-duty active Coast Guard members, tried to squelch the fire.
“As much as they tried, it was very, very hard … (There) just wasn’t enough manpower,” Cole said. “All of a sudden St. Innocent’s Academy and Mission guys had a whole boatload of people with shovels and pickaxes and they got out there and really helped put the fire out.”
Cole said other people started showing up to help put out the fire as well.
“I don’t know where these people came from, but I was glad they came and were able to help,” she said.
It took about 30 minutes until the fire was extinguished.
“The kids were never in any danger, but as a principal I was really nervous,” Cole said.
A number of organizations, including the Kodiak Fire Department, Coast Guard Fire Department and State Division of Forestry, responded to the fire.
State Division of Forestry spokesman Bud Sexton said a team of eight smoke jumpers from Fairbanks flew down to Kodiak Wednesday evening and were taken to Woody Island by the Coast Guard.
Four of them stayed on the island to ensure the fire was extinguished, and they left Thursday morning.
“Whenever we have an area off the road system, they are one of the resources we use,” Sexton said. “They’re a very highly talented and capable group.”
Sexton said the fire affected 8.2 acres, but he proclaimed the fire is indeed out.
“As far as the fire danger goes, we are maintaining a red flag status which has to do with the amount of wind conditions and lower humidity,” Sexton said. “We’re in the fire season and we need everyone to practice very safe practices.”
The students are still on the island learning about canoeing, birding, using a compass and other outdoor activities.
“They were glad they didn’t have to come home,” Cole said. “I think the new rule though is no flares on Woody Island.”
Mirror writer Louis Garcia can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.