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Port Heiden has anticapted the lake's breach for the last decade. Erosion is an ongoing concern for the village. In recent years, extreme storms and rising tides have accelerated the process.
After a decade of heavy erosion, a lake in the Bristol Bay village of Port Heiden finally breached this week. Water is now pouring into the bay.
Tribal Council President John Christensen noticed Goldfish Lake beginning to drain out slowly at the end of October.
“There was a little trickle. We went back a couple hours later it was a little bit bigger," he said. "We went back the next day there was this big stream coming over. Next day after that it was flowing steady and just picked up steadily after that.”
Coastal erosion is an ongoing issue for Port Heiden. Residents abandoned an old village site by the lake in 2008. Although those buildings are still standing, other houses have fallen. In 2017, the village lost access to a road by the bluff.
Christensen said this week’s collapse exposed various debris around the lake.
“There’s some spent .50 caliber rounds in there; some anchors; there’s all sorts of debris," he said. "We have to clean that up here, soon as the lake slows down from draining.”
Streams from a swamp behind the lake are feeding into the breach. Christensen says it is too soon to tell what will happen after the sight is depleted.
“It might turn into a tiny river,' he said. "We were hoping to turn it into a boat harbor because we lost access to our last one. But we’ll see what it looks like in the end.”
Port Heiden has tracked erosion for the past three decades. In recent years, extreme storms and rising tides have accelerated the process.
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In August, we had a fire that threatened our community.
On the Alaska Peninsula, residents of Port Heiden have been beating back a fire burning northeast of the village. It was last reported to be 12 miles from the community, according to the Alaska Fire Service.
“It is burning tundra, brush and grass. And the conditions are so dry right now that everything in its path is just going up in flames,” said Jaclyn Christensen, a resident of the village.
Christensen said the fire was first spotted Sunday by a pilot flying over Second Cape.
Community members have rallied to the frontlines of the blaze, using a bulldozer and excavator to create fire breaks.
“The heavy equipment operators have been working out there at the fire site since seven this morning," she said. "They finally got up to the site last night and went to bed at 1:00 in the morning and slept in the equipment out there.”
Those efforts are paying off; this afternoon the volunteer crew reported that they are controlling the fire, though it is not yet contained. West winds have also blown much of the smoke away from the village
The AFS has not staffed the Port Heiden fire, according to the service, because it isn’t threatening the village at this point.
Port Heiden has reached out to regional organizations for aide, and the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation provided masks to the community. The cause of the fire is not yet known.