Alaska Digest

Staff and Wire reports

Posted: Monday, May 30, 2005

Quakes jolt Aleutians

ANCHORAGE - The western Aleutians region was jolted by a series of mostly light earthquakes that struck within minutes of each other early Sunday.

The four quakes occurred between 12:34 a.m. and 12:51 a.m., and had preliminary magnitudes ranging from 4.3 to 5.1, according to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center.

The quakes were between 14 miles and 79 miles from Amchitka Island.

There were no immediate reports of the quakes being felt or causing damage.

Fire sweeps 200 acres near Nikolai

NIKOLAI - A fire near the Interior village of Nikolai swelled to more than 200 acres, drawing an enormous response from firefighters, who quickly gained the upper hand, officials said Sunday.

The fire was sparked Friday less than two miles from Nikolai, a Kuskokwim River community east of McGrath. Fire managers were hoping to contained the blaze by Sunday night, said Brett Ricker, a fire information officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry.

Fire officials assigned planes, helicopters and smoke jumpers to battle the fire. Two of the planes scooped water from nearby Salmonberry Lake, dousing the blaze, which "put a big damper on it" Saturday, Ricker said.

Mike Alexia, who lives in Nikolai, said Saturday that the wind had been blowing the fire away from the village since it started. Still, it got the attention of 120 or so people who live nearby.

"Everybody went to check it out and look at it," Alexia said. "It was going pretty fast (Friday). ... It's all cooled down today. There's hardly any smoke on it."

Ricker said the blaze, which started in a popular camping area, is under investigation. It is not clear exactly how it started, she said.

Company named exporter of the year

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage-based Alaskan Vacations has been named the Governor's Exporter of the Year for 2004.

Most past winners were exporters of resources or other goods. This selection illustrates the importance of international services to the economy, Gov. Frank Murkowski said.

"Alaskan Vacations is exporting the Alaska experience," he said.

The subsidiary of the company added direct summer charter flights between Alaska and Japan in 2003.

This summer Alaskan Vacations is again using a jumbo jet - a 355-passenger DC10-30 - for its four flights, all in August, between Anchorage and Tokyo, Hiroshima and Fukuoka, Japan.

Japan is one of Alaska's main targets for attracting foreign tourists, said Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, who presented the award last week at the Export Council's dinner in Anchorage.

An estimated 11,000 Japanese travelers visited Alaska last year, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

Japan also was the state's biggest foreign-trade partner again.

Voles infesting Fairbanks yards

FAIRBANKS - Yards around Fairbanks are pockmarked by a population boom of northern red-backed voles this spring - and residents are fuming.

"They messed my lawn up," said Clyde Simms. "I've got patches here and there where they ate the grass down to the soil. There's paths all cut through it."

Covered by a 4-foot blanket of snow that created what one biologist described as "perfect" conditions, the voles spent the winter burrowing under lawns all over town, eating grass roots and digging tunnels that rivaled gopher holes.

As soon as the snow melted this spring, the phones started ringing at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

"People are calling and describing infestations way above average levels," said pest management technician Cathy Randall. "They have all these trails through their whole lawn."

While it's not uncommon to see a few holes in your lawn each spring as a result of voles, this year is extreme, said lawn and garden expert Michelle Hebert at the extension service.

Grass roots aren't the only things the rodents eat. They've been known to eat everything from carrots to potatoes to Brussels sprouts.

"They're not good in your garden," Hebert said.

Interior wildfire prompts fast suppression efforts

Firm vows to supply asphalt oil

FAIRBANKS - Flint Hills' refinery in North Pole will meet this year's high demand for asphalt oil despite production plant emission problems, company officials said.

Asphalt oil is the raw component of road asphalt.

The company discovered in December that sulfur was not being removed from gas used to heat an asphalt warmer, allowing excess levels of sulfur dioxide to be released into the air.

The company reported the problem to the Department of Environmental Conservation and got a temporary compliance permit to operate the asphalt plant while seeking to solve the problem.

"We can take care of the people who need asphalt," said Jeff Cook, Flint Hills spokesman. "Our tanks are full. I wish people would hurry up and get it."

State Department of Transportation construction projects within the northern region will require 34,000 tons of asphalt this season, not including what is needed for road maintenance operations, said agency spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy.

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