State Briefs

Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2002

Blaze roars near Chena Hot Springs

FAIRBANKS - About 150 firefighters were working Saturday to contain the spreading flames of a wildfire near Chena Hot Springs Road. The fire apparently escaped from a burn pile Thursday.

Some residents near the end of the road were evacuated Thursday. The fire blossomed to about 3,000 acres by Friday night, fire authorities said. One house was destroyed.

On Friday, the blaze was north of the Chena Hot Springs Road, along the west fork of the Chena River. The road was closed to traffic at about Mile 50.

But on Saturday the fire had jumped the road in places, and many more houses and cabins are threatened, said Pete Buist of the state Division of Forestry.

The fire was so smoky Saturday that authorities couldn't estimate how much it had grown since Friday. "It's causing us a lot of trouble right now," Buist said late Saturday afternoon.

Near Livengood, about 50 miles north, fire crews were working on a blaze that covered about 800 acres Friday and had increased to 4,000 acres by Saturday. The fire was burning within a couple of miles of a small subdivision, said the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Crews were being withdrawn from a fire near Kalskag that started in the village dump and scorched about 3,370 acres.

Another fire south of McGrath was about the same size. That human-caused fire began Wednesday and was being fought by 16 smokejumpers and two helicopters.

There were 22 fires burning Saturday, six of which were being actively fought, the state reported. So far this year, 204 fires have burned 58,400 acres, the state said. All but one were caused by humans.

Armed robber gets seven years

JUNEAU - A man accused of breaking into a Douglas home late last year and holding up its owners at gunpoint will spend more than seven years in prison.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins on Thursday sentenced Rorie Miller, 22, to eight years in prison with four years suspended for felony second-degree robbery and three years with one year suspended for felony third-degree misconduct involving weapons. Collins also imposed the one year and nine months of a suspended sentence from a prior felony, for misconduct involving cocaine.

Police alleged Miller was one of three robbers who forcibly broke into a house on Creek Street in Douglas in December. The three allegedly took money from the owners at gunpoint and fled the scene.

Miller and Joshua Coon, 20, pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Cameron O'Neil, 22, has pleaded innocent to all charges and is awaiting trial.

Court throws out drug conviction

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Court of Appeals has overturned a 1999 cocaine conviction of a Fairbanks man, ruling that the police illegally searched a FedEx package addressed to Sam W. McGee with a device that can detect minute traces of drugs.

Once they detected the presence of cocaine, police obtained a search warrant and opened the package, finding about 7 ounces of cocaine.

Using the device, called an "Itemiser," is no different from using a drug-sniffing dog, the Appeals Court said. And the court ruled in 1985 that police need a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before they can temporarily detain a package so it can be checked by a dog, the court noted.

The state conceded it didn't have that reasonable suspicion, the court said.

McGee entered a no contest plea to drug misconduct. But he preserved his right to appeal Superior Court Judge Charles Penguilly's denial of his motion to suppress the evidence.

That denial, the three Appeals Court judges decided, was wrong, and they reversed Penguilly's judgment.



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