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Crews gain ground on Alaska wildfires, continue battling blaze inching toward oil pipeline

Posted: June 5, 2011 - 6:58pm

ANCHORAGE — More than 500 firefighters were tackling a 16-square-mile wildfire Sunday that was inching toward structures and the trans-Alaska oil pipeline northwest of Fairbanks.

The Hastings Fire was among 43 active fires the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reported Sunday morning.

Coordination center spokesman Bernie Pineda said, however, that fire crews were gaining ground in battling some wildfires around the state.

The Hastings fire initially threatened cabins near the Chatanika River, but that area has cooled, said state Division of Forestry spokesman Pete Buist.

The north end of the fire was active and moving slowly toward the pipeline about five miles away, Buist said. Wildfires have burned across the pipeline “multiple times” in the past, he said.

“The pipeline is pretty fire resistant,” he said. “We have to keep the fire away from the valves.”

The northeast section of the fire also was creeping toward cabins about three miles away, but Buist said it appears no one is living there.

The cause of the blaze was under investigation, said Mike McMillan of the Alaska Fire Service.

A hundred miles to the south, lightning caused the East Volkmar fire 25 miles northeast of Delta Junction.

Since the lightning strike May 26, the fire grew to almost 69 square miles, but it is burning in remote terrain. The nearest homes and cabins are about four miles away at the Goodpaster River, and the blaze has not been moving in that direction, said forestry division spokeswoman Sharon Roesch.

More than 300 firefighters were assigned to the fire, which is being fed by volatile fuels such as black spruce trees.

To date, there have been 290 fires in Alaska this year, with almost 334 square miles burned. By this time last year, 358 fires had burned almost 818 square miles.

In the vast state, some fires are so remote that they are not suppressed, and others are just monitored. Even in areas where fires are allowed to burn, however, firefighters may be deployed to protect isolated structures or private properties, Buist said.

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