Fierce wind storm causes damage, fans wildfires

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE - North winds gusting to more than 70 mph roared through Southcentral Alaska late Wednesday and early today, spinning debris through the air, knocking out power, damaging buildings and fanning wildfires in Palmer and Anchor Point.

In Palmer, firefighters were battling a wind-fanned brush fire near the Alaska State Fair grounds. The fire destroyed at least one building and forced the closure of the Glenn Highway for a time after flames leaped the highway.

Firefighters were battling a smoky fire in dry grass and trees north of Anchor Point. One family was evacuated from the area late Wednesday and several others left voluntarily. The fire started in a structure and spread to a wooded area, state forestry officials said.

Heavy wind damage was reported in downtown Anchorage and the surrounding area, with a small hotel losing half of its roof and an apartment building on Government Hill also losing a portion of its roof.

Downed power lines caused outages for thousands of residents. A plate glass window at an antique shop was blown out and large tiles were blown off the roof of the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. A Midtown McDonald's sign exploded into pieces in the street.

There were no reports of injuries.

The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport closed at midnight and flights were diverted to Fairbanks, airport spokesman Mark Butler said. The airport reopened at midmorning today.

"We had to clean debris off the runway. Also some containers were blowing around the airfield," Butler said.

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