Large Alaska wildfire continues to grow

Posted: Tuesday, July 21, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Firefighters on Monday were helping people living in cabins near Nenana clear trees and brush from around their homes in the event that a growing wildfire reaches dozens of cabins along the Teklanika River.

Junnifer Yumas / Alaska Incident Management Team
Junnifer Yumas / Alaska Incident Management Team

Residents also were being told to remove wood piles from against their homes and store four-wheelers, snowmachines and machinery with flammable liquids away from structures.

Several property owners have purchased pumps and sprinklers and were getting help from firefighters in setting the equipment up.

"We have had folks in the area between the fire and cabin corridor for the whole last week," Jennifer Yuhas, a spokeswoman for the Railbelt Complex fire, said Monday. "To date, we've been successful."

The fire is creeping along through the hardwoods, finding small stands of black spruce to feed on inside an established perimeter.

The fire had moved to within a mile and a half of the cabins, but had not moved closer for a couple of days, Yuhas said.

Water-scooping aircraft and helicopters with buckets were being used on the Railbelt Complex fire, which was continuing to grow but not advancing in any specific direction. It was staying inside its perimeter, Yuhas said.

The lightning-caused fire began nearly a month ago. It has grown to nearly 219,000 acres. More than 280 firefighters are assigned to it.

The Railbelt Complex fire is one of several large wildfires burning in Alaska, where so far this year more than 400 fires have burned over 1 million acres in the state, making it a bad year for wildfires.

State officials say the Railbelt Complex fire, and others in Interior Alaska, are affecting air quality, especially north of Denali National Park where the smoke-filled air has been deemed unhealthy and even hazardous at times.

A fire burning in the Wrangell St.-Elias National Park about 13 ½ miles from the town of McCarthy made a 3-mile run on Sunday. The Chakina fire could get going again on Monday afternoon when winds are likely to pick up again, said Tina Boehle, spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

The fire was 30,000 acres and growing on Monday, she said.

"It was very active yesterday," Boehle said.

Firefighters are most concerned that the fire will reach and jump across the Chitina River, where there are some occupied structures.

More resources are being put on the fire, Boehle said, including six Division of Forestry fire engines.

The road from Chitina to McCarthy is open. However, officials are advising people to keep their headlights on because of poor visibility caused by smoke.

A fire burning inside the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was 80 percent contained on Monday. The Shanta Creek fire north of Tustumena Lake began on June 30, also by lightning. It was estimated to be 13,221 acres on Monday, but a light rain was keeping it from growing. The fire was smoldering and creeping in places.

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