by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services
NNSL (Feb 17/97) - A fire that burned out of control Feb. 9 destroyed the building being used as a school for the second time in just over a year.
Members of the Gwich'in community of about 800 are puzzled and angry -- their Chief Julius school was destroyed by arson exactly 13 months earlier and a new school complex isn't finished yet.
Ironically, the community had just finished helping the Yukon community of Old Crow - across the border and to the west of McPherson - through a similar situation.
Old Crow's school and several nearby houses burned to the ground in late January and McPherson residents sent donations of clothing and plenty of moral support to help their neighbor in a time of need.
Terry Forbes, a teacher and a hamlet councillor in McPherson, said it's terrible that the community has to go through the ordeal all over again.
"It's very frustrating in the sense that where we've reordered everything for the high school, and now we have to go through the same thing again," he said.
Const. Gary Hodges said last week's fire started around seven in the morning, spread quickly and threatened neighboring homes.
There were no injuries, but the portable building housing Grade 7 to 11 was completely destroyed. The estimated amount of damage has been pegged at $450,000.
"When firefighters knew it couldn't be saved, they bulldozed the building (to) save houses at either end," said Hodges.
"A house at the east end was in danger. Now the school is a pile of (rubble) and nothing can be salvaged except for two furnace units."
Hodges said police are treating the fire as suspicious, but said there isn't any evidence to suggest the fire last January is linked in any way to this latest disaster.
Hodges said police are hoping that someone in the community will come forward with information about who started last week's fire. RCMP are also continuing to investigate last year's fire.
In the meantime, around-the-clock security is in place outside the new school, which is still under construction.
Students will continue to be taught in various locations around the community until after Easter break when the new school is expected to be finished.