Firefighters race to S. Fork blaze

Posted: Monday, August 09, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Firefighters reacted quickly when a small brush fire was reported in Eagle River for fear it might spread down a valley full of homes.

It was the second time in as many days that an overwhelming response to a relatively small fire killed the blaze before it could spread.

The Eagle River fire was contained to about a 50-by-50-foot area.

On Friday, three dozen firefighters sped to a small blaze in south Anchorage after a car abandoned in the middle of a patch of spruce trees caught fire. The car was at the end of a deeply rutted dirt path blocked by boulders.

Despite the obstacles, firefighters quickly extinguished the car and the trees around it, which were burning like torches when they arrived.

Saturday's blaze broke out just after lunchtime in South Fork Valley, a community with about 500 homes and 1,300 people and only one road in and out. The area also has thousands of beetle-killed spruce trees.

"The Hillside is bad, but this is worse as far as I'm concerned," said South Fork volunteer fire chief Bill Fink Jr.

The fire started in tundra right next to a trail on a ridge that leads to Harp Mountain, at the end of Hiland Road. The area is popular for hiking and blueberry picking, and fire officials suspect a cigarette might have been the cause.

With the recent spell of high temperatures and dry weather, the ground has very little moisture left in it, Fink said.

A homeowner who lives right below the ridgeline saw the smoke and called authorities.

Jennifer Vancil, who also lives nearby, said a firefighter she knows called and asked her to look outside to confirm the location. She said she saw smoke billowing from the ridge.

"I told him to send a helicopter," she said. "If something got going up here, we'd be in big trouble."

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