Evacuated residents return home

Posted: Monday, May 31, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Residents of the village of Tanacross and the nearby Eagle subdivision were back in their homes Sunday, even though the eastern Alaska wildfire that forced them to evacuate continued to gain ground.

"The fire is still growing," said fire information officer Sarah Saarloos. "We haven't gotten any rain yet, and there is none in the forecast."

She said winds were pushing the 8,600-acre blaze to the west, away from populated areas. And a fire line has been built to protect homes.

Meanwhile, another wildfire southwest of Fairbanks burned a lodge along the Iditarod Sled Dog Race trail, but no one was hurt.

Saarloos said the weather near the Eagle Trail fire remained the same - hot and dry with swirling, erratic winds with the buildup of thunderhead clouds each afternoon.

The village and subdivision were evacuated late Wednesday and Thursday because of the fast-moving wildfire. Residents returned to their homes Saturday night.

Hotshot crews from the Lower 48 arrived Saturday to help. Additional aircraft also have been requested. About 500 firefighters had been assigned to the fire.

Travel on the Alaska Highway on the busy Memorial Day weekend was being delayed because of smoke, officials said.

The fire was 15 percent contained Sunday. Saarloos said that basically was the amount of fire line around the village of Tanacross and on the Eagle Trail.

The blaze was started by lightning Wednesday and is burning less than a mile south of Tanacross.

Fifteen new fires were reported to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center on Saturday. The fires ranged in size from a single tree burning to 4,915 acres.

One of them burned the Farewell Lake Lodge, along the Iditarod Trail, and an unknown number of outbuildings late Friday, fire information officer Pete Buist said.

"They were able to extract the people before the fire took the place over," he said.

The lodge, near McGrath, is on the leg of the sled dog trail from Rohn to Nikolai but is not an official stopover for mushers.

The largest wildfire so far in Alaska, the Toklat Fire at 69,000 acres, was burning about 30 miles southeast of Nenana. Much of the smoke in Fairbanks was coming from that blaze.

As of Sunday, there were 85 fires burning in Alaska. So far this year, 251 fires have burned 177,350 acres statewide.

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