This Day in Alaskan History-June 17th, 1953

The 1953 Whittier fire.
The 1953 Whittier fire.

At just after 5 pm on June 17th,1953, fire broke out at the military port installation on the Whittier waterfront.

The fire burned fiercely and within four hours there was nothing left to burn. The 1,200-foot wharf, three warehouses, the largest stiff-leg crane in Alaska, and a huge amount of supplies were destroyed.

At least 19 firefighters were injured in the blaze. Among the injured was Andy Hedge the Alaska Railroad Yardmaster. Andy and his crew were instrumental in moving 35 railroad cars full of valuable military cargo away from the dock area. His heroic efforts ended when surrounded by flames, he jumped from the dock to a fireboat 35 feet below.

For his efforts, Andy received the Department of Interior Distinguished Service Award. Because of his injuries, he was unable to attend the ceremony in his honor.

While the installation was being rebuilt traffic was diverted to Seward.

At a loss of $20 million, the fire was the most costly in Alaskan history.