McGrath fire finally under control

Posted: Monday, June 10, 2002

ANCHORAGE - More than two weeks after it began, the McGrath fire that scorched more than 90,000 acres has been tamed.

Five fire crews were scheduled to leave McGrath on Sunday, said fire information officer Jean Withnell, who expected to leave for her home post in Virginia today.

"I think they have been kind of bored out there," Withnell said of the few fire crews still positioned on the fire, which began May 22 on the east side of Vinasale Mountain about 15 miles south of McGrath.

The fire at times provided plenty of excitement. At one point, firefighters were pulled back to the Interior town of about 400 people to build what's called defensible space. Winds blew the fire north, not west, but the blaze came to within six miles of the town.

Fire lines were bulldozed, evacuation zones designated and homes that were at greatest risk if the fire turned again were identified. Several residents with breathing problems were evacuated.

Withnell said at least one crew will remain on the fire to keep an eye on what's left of the fire. She said fire lines built by the bulldozers and the small amount of unburned vegetation that could fuel a fire would make it difficult for the fire to threaten again.

Fire personnel from at least seven states assisted in helping fight the blaze.

In the meantime, the National Weather Service on Sunday issued a red flag warning for the Tanana Flats due to fire risk. The warning was issued because winds of 20 to 35 mph were expected with relative humidity of between 25 and 35 percent in the Delta Junction area.

Forecasters said there was no chance of rain through this morning.

Firefighters, meanwhile, expected to have a 22,000-acre fire along the Chena Hot Springs Road contained soon.

Crews have been putting out smoldering pockets mostly in the southern portion of the fire, and the Chena River State Recreation Area has been reopened. The fire began May 23.

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