Fumes spur evacuation

Unknown odor prompts Nikiski firefighters to use caution

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2007

Firefighters are scratching their heads over the origin of noxious fumes that prompted a two-hour evacuation in the area of Miller Loop and Island Lake roads in Nikiski on Wednesday afternoon.

"There have been no major pesticide releases from the plants," said Jim Hoyt, a paramedic at Nikiski Fire Department. "We're maintaining a perimeter. It may dissipate on its own."

Hoyt, who stood on Bernice Lake Road not far from the intersection of Miller Loop, said according to reports, the fumes smell like Superglue. Firefighters haven't been able to find anything and have asked residents to give them at least two hours to look.

"Right here we're not smelling it," he said. "It's thick between Island Lake Road, Miller Loop and Alexander Road."

Jim Allmann, acting assistant fire chief for Nikiski, said firefighters were notified by Homer Electric Association employees who called 911 around 4 p.m., reporting a strong smell in the area. He said between 50 and 75 residents live in the area that was evacuated, but he couldn't say exactly how many people firefighters were able to contact.

"We don't have any idea of how much contact (firefighters) had going door to door," he said. "We ask residents to give us one to two hours to leave their homes while we try to determine the nature and cause. We're not able to determine what this is at this point."

Firefighters contacted the industrial plants in the area, who said the fumes didn't come from them. Allmann said once Tesoro was able to determine that the smell didn't come from their facility, they sent an industrial hygienist into the field to help firefighters determine what the fumes might be.

"We had those guys giving us information within five minutes," he said. "The more resources you have available, the better you're able to determine what you're trying to work with."

Although some reports of burning eyes and throats have reached Allman's ears, he said no one was transported to the hospital and the smell has diminished.

"Usually we can narrow it down quick," he said. "We put resources onto the Spur Highway to check sources we can think of. We've had crews looking and we're bringing most of them back in at this point."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

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