Fire threatens to cross river east of Fairbanks

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — A new survey of a fire east of Fairbanks indicates it has grown to more than 123 square miles but firefighters by early afternoon Monday had kept the blaze on the south side of the Chena River and away from hundreds of threatened homes.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/12TcCed) reported containment of the Stuart Creek 2 Fire at just 5 percent.

“The fire spread significantly to the north and northwest yesterday (Sunday),” the multi-agency Joint Information Center said in an announcement. “Heavy smoke limited the use of aircraft and the increased fire behavior slowed or stopped progress on fire line construction in most of the fire area.”

More than 600 residents in two rural neighborhoods along Chena Hot Springs Road, Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley, heeded an evacuation request by fire officials and moved animals and belongings to other parts of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

The fire began in June 25 during a U.S. Army artillery exercise.

Fort Wainwright’s garrison commander, Col. Ron Johnson, told residents gathered at a weekend community meeting that training occurred during a period when the National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning asking residents to avoid conducting activities that could start fires. The fire was initially contained but came back.

“It was monitored. It smoked up. They hit it again, and then when the fire conditions changed, it flared up, and now we’ve got what we’ve got,” Johnson said.

Kent Slaughter, the Alaska Fire Service manager for the Bureau of Land Management, said BLM had advised the Army not to conduct training that day. The fire, Slaughter said, may lead BLM to re-evaluate how the agency authorizes the Army to conduct live-fire training.

Chena Hot Springs Road begins five miles northeast of Fairbanks off the Steese Highway and runs east about 55 miles to Chena Hot Springs Resort. The hot runs roughly parallel to the Chena River.

Fire officials early Sunday afternoon requested that residents living in a 16-mile stretch between Miles 18 and 34 find another place to stay.

The fire so far has been kept to the south side of the Chena River, which provides a natural fire break. Homes and other structures are on the north side of the river. Fire Sunday jumped a river channel and reached the north bank but firefighters moved in to extinguish it after about 400 square feet burned.

Alaska State Parks on Sunday closed the Chena River State Recreation Area, which stretches from Mile 26 to Mile 50.5.

“Closing the park to public use will help prevent park visitors becoming stranded from Fairbanks in the event of a road closure,” the agency said in an announcement. “It will also help focus fire and emergency resources on protecting structures and community members directly threatened by the fire.”

Alaska Fire Service information officer Michelle Weston said 684 people are working on the fire. They could get some relief from changing weather conditions; rain is in the forecast, Weston said.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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