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Polaris Fire Claims Life of Nome Woman, City Confirms; Origin of Blaze Still Unknown

UPDATE (9:27am Wednesday): After burning for about 15 hours, the fire that erupted inside Nome’s Polaris Hotel early yesterday morning was put out by 6pm Tuesday evening.

On Tuesday morning, there had been reports of at least one person unaccounted-for who could have still been inside Polaris. The City of Nome has now confirmed that Bette Ann Haugen of Nome perished in the fire. Her remains have been recovered and sent to the State Medical Examiner’s office for an autopsy.

According to a press release from the City of Nome, the origin of the fire is still unknown. The State Fire Marshal’s Office has been called in and is expected to be on the scene today to help determine the cause of the blaze.

Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the first name of the Polaris fire casualty. Ms. Haugen’s name has been corrected to “Bette Ann,” rather than “Betty.”

Original story (4:12pm Tuesday): The fire that erupted inside Nome’s Polaris Hotel early this morning has largely been extinguished.

According to Nome’s Assistant Fire Chief, Kevin Knowlton, the building is compromised, but no adjacent structures have been harmed. He says an excavator was used this afternoon to prevent the fire from spreading:

“The west side of the building, we’ve got some residents that were fairly close, and if the walls fell outward they would have hit those; so, we brought the excavator in to kind of push everything into itself instead of waiting to see if it was going to do something we didn’t want it to do.”

According to Nome Fire Chief Jim West, Jr., the Fire Department was first notified of a fire that started in the Polaris liquor store at around 2:45 Tuesday morning.

“It’s coming out of the liquor store, the owner came out and said he smelled smoke. He checked the back kitchen, nothing there, as he worked his way back through the building and came to the storage area where’s there a couple coolers and whatnot, he got a burst of smoke and flame.”

As the 22 available volunteer firefighters worked to extinguish the fire through the morning, the blaze spread up through the second floor of the building. According to Knowlton, no volunteers have been injured.

This morning, there was reportedly at least one person unaccounted for who could still be inside Polaris. Assistant Fire Chief Knowlton declined to provide further information about the status of that person, but says the Fire and Police Departments are working to verify the locations of anyone who may have been inside.

Late in the morning, the Fire Department issued an advisory to residents on the north side of town, including Icy View, to stay inside due to hazardous smoke. A mixture of smoke and fog blanketed Nome in the early afternoon but has now cleared.

According to a press release from the City of Nome, the origin of the fire is still unknown. The Nome Recreation Center has been activated as the community’s emergency shelter.

Knowlton added that it was good to see community members come out to support the fire team throughout the day:

“When we’re focusing on doing our job and people are looking out for us, it’s very, very appreciated.”

Late this afternoon, firefighters continued to douse what’s left of the fire. The State Fire Marshal’s Office has been called in and is expected to be on the scene tomorrow. KNOM will continue to keep you updated on the status of the fire and the unaccounted person as more information becomes available.

Image at top: The remains of the Polaris Hotel on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of John Handeland.

Davis Hovey also contributed to this story.

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