NESPELEM — Some 40 people who work for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Nespelem lost their offices when the tribes’ administration building burned to the ground on Monday.
The losses include the offices of 14 governing council members, and at least some of the council’s resolutions and meeting minutes from the past year, since the tribe archives its records annually.
“I can’t give a full assessment, but without a doubt, a large portion of what was lost is irreplaceable,” said Colville Tribal Chairman Michael Finley.
He said it’s too soon to know whether important historical records or artifacts were lost.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Finley said he’s grateful that no one was hurt in the fire, and appreciates all the hard work by tribal staff who have been dealing with issues related to the loss.
“We’ve also had overwhelming support from people all over the country, from congressional people to owners of businesses and tribal leaders coast to coast,” he said. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Department of Interior flew in Monday and will visit the site today, he said.
Matt Haney, director of public safety for the tribes, said the building was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters were called to the scene at about 1:15 a.m.
Firefighters were able to contain the blaze to the administration building, and a Bureau of Indian Affairs building attached to the back of the administration building was not burned, he said.
In addition to the tribal council, the tribes’ elections office, executive and deputy director’s offices, and the tribes’ newspaper, the Tribal Tribune, were all housed there along with support staff.
Finley said the structure is about 40 years old, and the tribe has plans and a design to replace it. That project is now on a fast-track, he said. The tribal council will meet temporarily in a newly constructed tribal courthouse.
This is the second major tribal building lost to fire in less than a year. In December, the Chief Joseph Nez Perce Longhouse in Nespelem burned down, caused by an electrical malfunction.
Finley said both structures were built before the tribe had fire codes in place. The administration building was largely built out of cedar, he said. Fire codes are now in place for new construction that will incorporate fire safety and fire suppression measures that could have saved these buildings, he said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512