Suspected arson fire damages Pilot Point trading post

Posted: Wednesday, June 07, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A suspected arson fire in the Bristol Bay village of Pilot Point heavily damaged the general store and threatened a nearby propane storage tank and fuel pump before villagers were able to put it out.

A resident allegedly started the fire in a rage early Sunday and then disappeared. He hasn't been seen since. Authorities would not identify the man.

About 20 villagers worked for an hour an a half, pumping water from a small lake onto the blaze at the Pilot Point Trading Company. No one was injured.

Propane bottles inside exploded. Matches were strewn everywhere and the place had been doused with Coleman fuel, said Gust Griechen, who owns the building and ran the store with sons Harold and Gust ''Sonny'' Griechen III, the mayor.

''Pilot Point could have turned into a hole in the ground here. These guys saved a lot of destruction,'' said Greg Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers.

Structural damage to the roof and supports of the two-story, wooden building was heavy.

Troopers and the state fire marshal's office are investigating the origin of the fire, which they say did an estimated half-million dollars in damage.

Matt Hardwig, the village public safety officer, said he was awakened around 4 a.m. Sunday because of a disturbance involving the suspect. He couldn't find him and went to his office to make some phone calls. Around 4:40 am., someone ran up to report the fire.

Wilkinson said a shotgun was found at the scene that the suspect had been seen with earlier. But authorities aren't saying what may have motivated him.

The store served the village of 90 or so and was a supply stop for Bristol Bay salmon fisherman. Pilot Point has one other store but it is not as well stocked. The trading post carried everything from soup to baby diapers to charcoal.

Villagers can fly to King Salmon for supplies, for $100 a trip, or order through Fred Meyer or Costco, Griechen said.

His family isn't sure they want to rebuild. They bought the business in 1974 from a cannery and operated it in rented space until constructing their own building a decade later.

''It is an extreme hardship. Everybody is kind of in shock over it. It is going to hurt the village,'' Hardwig told the Anchorage Daily News.

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