1,000-plus firefighters battling blazes

Containment of Kenai Lake fire expected by tonight

Posted: Monday, July 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE - Temperatures in Alaska's fire zone rose today, but firefighters say they made good progress the last few days controlling major blazes on the Kenai Peninsula, near Tok, and on the Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks.

"We don't have the cloud cover we had the last couple of days," said Dick Markley, a fire information officer for the Kenai Lake fire. "But the past three or four days we made good progress." Winds remained light.

More than a thousand firefighters were at work.

There are 360 firefighters and four helicopters working to control the blaze on the north shore of Kenai Lake west of the Seward Highway, Markley said.

Full containment of the fire that began as a prescribed burn is expected by 6 tonight. It has charred 3,220 acres, including the area Chugach National Forest officials wanted to burn to reduce future fire danger.

Not far away, more than 250 firefighters were working on a fire near Cooper Landing. That fire, which has burned about 1,400 acres, was started by lightning on Thursday.

The blaze was only about two miles from the Sterling Highway, but caused no major traffic problems over the weekend. Authorities are fighting it aggressively because it's close to the highway and because the area has large stands of beetle-killed spruce.

Further to the north, 187 firefighters had a blaze near Tok about 90 percent contained, according to Andy Williams of the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. The 120-acre fire burned a home, a cabin, and six outbuildings after starting Friday afternoon. The cause is still being investigated.

Firefighters were scaling back their efforts on two fires on the Tanana Flats near Nenana, Williams said. The fire on Fort Wainwright has burned more than 106,000 acres in an area where fires are generally allowed to burn, and it'll probably continue until rain puts it out, Williams said. Two crews were working on a spot where the fire crossed the Wood River onto private land.

The Fish Creek fire south of Nenana got some light rain over the weekend. Several crews were sent to the Kenai Peninsula, reducing the firefighting crew to about 185. That fire was holding at about 83,000 acres.

Four new fires were reported in the state Sunday. Smokejumpers contained a 3-acre lightning-sparked fire near Mucha Lake on the northern edge of Denali National Park and Preserve. A fire at Rocky Lake near Wasilla was put out by local firefighters after an acre and a half burned. Two smaller human-caused fires in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough also were extinguished.

Altogether, fire officials estimate wildfires have burned nearly 206,000 acres in Alaska so far this year, but that's still less than normal at this time of year, according to Williams.

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