Hoonah Fire of 1944 (Film)

This 22-minute film is a Huna Heritage Foundation production, in association with the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It was created by Melissa Fisher for Huna Heritage in 2019 from archival footage, interviews and photographs.

1944 was during World War II and there was an internment camp in Excursion Inlet. Some fuel drums from the camp were found by Hoonah residents and salvaged the drums of fuel, storing them under their homes. The fuel was too high octane for fuel tanks but could be used for lamps. The summer of 1944 was a hot one. June 14, 1944 was a very hot day with a strong breeze blowing from the North. Most of the men were out fishing and some men were serving in the military. Houses on the waterfront were built high enough off the ground that some people smoked fish under their house. Canvas tarps were used to cover the pilings of the homes. One of the tarps caught fire from the fire used to smoke the fish. The fire quickly became out of control and when the drums of fuel caught fire and exploded the fire became unstoppable. The houses were so close together that some estimates say that it only took twenty minutes for about eighty percent of the town to burn down. People tried their best to put the fire out but there was no fire truck or fire department at the time. A bucket brigade was not enough to combat the fire. Community members had to grab what they could in just minutes. There was only one casualty, a man by the name of John C. Smith. He lost his life because he would not leave the precious cultural items he was caretaker of and the people respected his wishes.