Petersburg Pilot -

Fire destroys incubation room at Crystal Lake Hatchery, over 1.2 million fish destroyed


Belinda Chase / Submitted Photo

The incubation building and the generator shed (extreme left) were fully engulfed in an early morning fire on Tuesday.

The incubation building and the generator shed at the Crystal Lake Hatchery were both destroyed in an early morning fire Tuesday. Petersburg firefighters responded and fought the blaze in 9 degree temperatures.

Hatchery Manager Loren Thompson said 1.2 million incubating fish were killed. It took out about one half to two-thirds of the production and included 200,000 Coho and one million Kings.

An alarm went off at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to Thompson. "I walked out the door, saw the blaze and went back in and called 911," said Thompson. The Petersburg Volunteer Fire Department responded 45 minutes later with a single truck and five-member crew.

PVFD spokesman David Berg said by the time responders received the call the building had been burning for some time.

"The first engine got on scene and did confirm that the building itself was fully engulfed and they weren't going to be able to do anything to save it," Berg said.

The saving grace for the hatchery, according to Thompson, was that due to the mild winter, they had released about 1.7 million fish into the concrete raceways enabling the hatchery, "to give a full release of fish in 2014 to Crystal Creek (700,000 fish), 200,000 to City Creek near Petersburg, 500,000 to Neets Bay and 300,000 to Anita Bay."

"This was the earliest I can remember ever ponding these fish," Thompson added.

Thompson noted that following the loss of 1,000 Kings due to warm weather this past summer, "we were poised to shine. We are the number one contributor to the winter troll fishery in the state."

Ron Loesch

Twisted framework and infrastructure at the Crystal Lake Hatchery incubation room continued to smolder Tuesday morning. Hatchery manager Loren Thompson estimated the structural damage at $3 million.

The day following the fire when Thompson was able to access his computer records he reported 992,000 fish in another covered building at the hatchery will enable Crystal Lake Hatchery, "to provide a solid release of fish in 2015, including salmon for Anita Bay."

Damage to the equipment and buildings at the hatchery was estimated at $3 million according to the manager.

PVFD saved a shed located next to the incubation building which housed fish feed and tools, according to Thompson.

"The ball is in the State's court in regards to rebuilding the lost structures. They're self-insured," he said. The best scenario would be to get the incubation structure rebuilt before August when returning Kings come back to the hatchery. "If we can pick-up the pieces by August we can take the eggs and begin incubation for the next stock," he added.

Berg said through preliminary findings and eye witness accounts, fire officials determined that a mounted heater overheated old wall studs enough to ignite flames.


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