Spectators watch the Tracye Avenue fire from Ohlson Mountain Road near Homer. Marilyn Dugdale, who lives on the road, said a steady stream of traffic has been going on the road since the weekend to watch the fire.
Photo by Michael Armstrong, Home
Raging through dry grass and beetle-kill spruce, the major wildfire currently burning northeast of Homer consumed more than 4,000 acres and at least one unoccupied cabin by 5 p.m. Monday and was taking dead aim at the banks of the Anchor River, according to state fire officials.
The Tracy Avenue Fire, as the blaze has been labeled, broke out Friday roughly 10 miles east of Homer and grew quickly. It grew to 300 acres by Friday night, 1,000 acres 24 hours later, and to 3,770 by Monday morning. Favorable southwesterly winds over the weekend helped keep the fire from jumping Fritz Creek and spreading into residential subdivisions to the south and west.
By Monday it reached Watermelon Trail about seven miles north of Homer and two miles from the Anchor River, burning in mostly roadless wilderness. However, by late Monday afternoon, the fire burned down to the confluence of Beaver Creek and the Anchor River. Upon entering the Anchor River drainage, about a half mile from the riverbank, it turned north up the drainage in what is being seen as another fortunate break at least so far.
Ground Zero of the Tracy Avenue fire. An electric line from this pole fell to the ground and scorched scrub and grasslands, igniting the fire last Friday afternoon.
Photo by Michael Armstrong, Home
Should the fire jump the river, however, it would once again threaten populated areas.
Kris Eriksen, spokesperson for the Division of Forestry stationed at the Incident Command Post set up at McNeil Canyon School, said a tanker aircraft dumped three loads of retardant between the head of the fire and the river, and the winds have continued to drive the fire toward unpopulated areas.
"Everything is working for us," Eriksen said.
Three bulldozers have been moved to the opposite shore of the Anchor River in anticipation of the fire jumping across, she said.
"We're doing contingency planning," she said.
In a press release issued Monday morning, division officials said the recreational cabin taken by the fire had been located north of Beaver Creek Flats. The owned the cabin has not been identified.
As of Monday morning, 85 state firefighters were engaged in fighting the wildfire, as well as six bulldozers operated by volunteers, and three helicopters.
Volunteers from the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Area, the Homer Volunteer Fire Department and the Kachemak Emergency Service Area provided the initial response when the fire when it broke out. It started when an electric line from a power pole fell to the ground, igniting scrub and grasslands.
By early Saturday, state crews had relieved the local crews, releasing them and their equipment.
According to ICP release, crews, fire jumpers and dozers were working the west end of the fire in an effort to halt its approach to the Anchor River. Other crews were to continue strengthening the southern perimeter to prevent the fire from jumping Fritz Creek. Homes in the Eagle Aerie Subdivision and Skyline Drive areas where at least 200 people reside were not in immediate danger Monday. Burning areas closest to Tracy Avenue and Greer Road would continue to be monitored, fire officials said.
Homer Fire Chief Bob Painter said Monday the blaze was the largest wildland fire to strike the Homer area in many years.
"It was impressive," he said, describing the fire at the onset. "But luckily, there was not a strong wind pushing it maybe 8 to 10 mph."
Initially, the prime concerns were how easy or hard it would be to get fire crews to the front, whether any homes then threatened could be defended, and whether people should be evacuated. Early on, there was concern the fire might spread eastward to Bald Mountain, where there are homes.
However, with the prevailing winds from the south, the fire kept jumping the fire line to the north and west instead. Until it hits the Anchor River, however, about the only structures it might threaten would be a few scattered recreational cabins, Painter said, adding that over flights were being conducted to assess how defendable they might be.
Decisions to put crews on the ground would rest on several factors, but most importantly, crew safety, Painter said.
Scattered clouds, cooler temperatures and a chance of rain were predicted for Monday and today. If rain should come, Painter said, it should help take the strength out of the fire.
"It may lay down enough for fire crews to cut more fire lines," he said. "They built four miles (Sunday). If they can get around it, they can choke it off."
Painter said the area has "dodged a bullet," so far.
Containing the blaze won't be the end of on-scene action. Painter said the state was planning a "100 percent mop up," meaning every hot spot within the fire line would be extinguished to prevent a flare up, and bulldozer lines would be remediated, especially where the machines had to ford Beaver and Fritz creeks.
"That's a lot of work," he said.
The Division of Forestry has suspended permitting open burning in all of Southcentral Alaska until further notice.
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