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Firefighters battle season's first big blaze

Posted: Friday, June 22, 2001

ANCHORAGE - A wind-blown fire feeding on black spruce and tundra grew to more than 800 acres Thursday in Alaska's Interior as 200 firefighters tried to stop it.

The fire near Fish Creek south of Nenana was only five acres when it was reported Wednesday, but strong winds caused it to grow quickly, said Bill Beebe, coastal regional fire management officer for the state Division of Forestry.

"It is out of control," Beebe said Thursday. "It has a potential to grow very large."

There are several houses within a few miles of the fire, but they were not immediately threatened. The cause of the fire was not known.

Sixteen smokejumpers and two helicopters were sent to the fire Wednesday, and 28,000 gallons of fire retardant were used. Three hotshot crews, one emergency firefighter crew and four more fire crews were brought in Thursday.

A smaller fire west of the Parks Highway near Willow also was out of control, Beebe said. Nearly two dozen firefighters, including two crews added Thursday, were brought in to try to control the lightning-caused fire that had consumed about 10 acres of trees. Several nearby homes were not in danger.

Firefighters were monitoring a 600-acre fire burning on Fort Wainwright property about 10 miles southwest of Fairbanks International Airport. The fire is in a limited suppression area and will be allowed to burn itself out as long as people and property aren't threatened. The main concern with that fire was whether it would impair visibility at the airport.

Alaska had 72 fire crews available Thursday, enough to handle the 10 fires that were burning statewide, Beebe said.

So far this year, 235 fires have burned 4,140 acres in Alaska, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Although the fire season was starting about on schedule, conditions could indicate difficult times ahead, Beebe said. Little snow over the winter, low humidity and several days in which temperatures reached into the 80s were creating conditions that could allow fires to grow quickly.

"It's dry. I think it is drier than it's been in the last few years," he said.



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