SAIPAN — The traditional canoe house in Susupe, Saipan, caught fire early Monday morning, damaging one canoe that was still under construction, said Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Joseph Deleon Guerrero.
It was CNMI Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services Commissioner Dennis Mendiola who informed Deleon Guerrero about the blaze.
"One of the firemen on the way to the Susupe fire station noticed the fire and called it in," Deleon Guerrero added.
"Big kudos to the firefighter who reported it – otherwise, it could have been worse," he added.
The cause of the fire is still unknown.
As for the damaged canoe, "We are going to get up back on our feet and start all over again to finish this project," Deleon Guerrero said.
"With the support of the administration we can also get more carvers – we are not going to give up on this project," he added.
He said, because of the incident, access to the site will be restricted after working hours.
"We asked (the CNMI Department of Public Lands) to authorize us to fence the area a couple of weeks ago, but it just so happens that DPL is under transition, so we need to get back (to) this discussion with them," Deleon Guerrero said. "We need to install a temporary fence – it will be a structurally sound fence but not permanent. We just can't allow this thing to happen again."
Seafaring project coordinator John Castro said, based on the assessment of master navigator Antonio "Tony" Urmeyang Piailug, the damaged canoe "is probably 5% salvageable only."
Castro said the wood used to build the canoe came from Rota trees.
"To complete a canoe this size, it will take about a year, and that depends on the number of carvers working on it," he added.