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FAIRBANKS - Contractors working on the route for Golden Valley Electric Association's Northern Intertie may have been responsible for starting two wildfires that have burned more than 170,000 acres on the Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks.
"I believe that both fires were unintentionally started by the intertie right-of-way clearing activities," said Steve Haagenson, GVEA acting president.
Fire investigators from the Bureau of Land Management and the state's Division of Forestry are seeking the causes of both fires, which started June 20.
A helicopter pilot who ferried crews clearing the intertie route said the Fish Creek Fire east of Clear, which has grown to nearly 70,000 acres, started moments after he dropped off workers.
Pilot Larry Larrivee, a subcontractor who owns Pollack Aviation, said workers alerted him to a fire after he landed about 2.5 miles east of the Parks Highway near Clear. He lifted off, spun around, saw the fire and reported the blaze.
He does not know what ignited the fire.
"Whether it was exhaust or a spark coming out of the tail end of the helicopter, it was out of my field of vision," Larrivee said.
Also under investigation is the cause of the Survey Line Fire, which has consumed 100,000 acres on the Tanana Flats.
GVEA route-clearing contractors were in the area of both fires, said Haagenson.
"I think it's pretty obvious," Haagenson said. "We were the only ones out in the area and, not having any lightning and no four-wheelers, I suspect that it's us."