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Favorable winds help Kalskag fire crews

Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Three fire crews and eight smokejumpers continued to battle a 3,000-acre fire Tuesday that began two days ago when burning at the Kalskag dump got out of control.

Crews were working the south end of the fire, while two aircraft dropped retardant at the northeast corner. A helicopter was dropping water on the hot spots, said Andy Williams, spokesman for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center at Fort Wainwright.

Firefighters were being helped by winds that were keeping the blaze away from the Kuskokwim River villages of Kalskag and Upper Kalskag.

''The wind has been favorable and has not blown toward the villages,'' Williams said.

As of Tuesday, 28 fires were burning around Alaska in what fire officials say is an early, fast start to the fire season. Fifteen new fires were reported Monday, ranging in size from one-tenth of an acre to two acres.

Record-setting heat and low humidity was creating particularly hazardous wildfire conditions on the Kenai Peninsula, and in Southcentral and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough areas.

In addition to the three fire crews in Kalskag, one crew each was prepositioned on the Kenai and in Palmer.

So far this year, 157 fires have burned nearly 38,000 acres, Williams said.

''We are off to a galloping start,'' he said.

Above normal temperatures were expected through the Memorial Day weekend.

Most of the new fires were either in the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough area or the Fairbanks area. Small fires were put out near Kenai and Delta Junction, and two smokejumpers were called in to extinguish a fire at the Shungnak dump in northwest Alaska.

Williams said the Delta Junction fire was from a burn pile last year. The fire went down into the ground until this spring when heat and winds brought it back to life.

''It happens,'' Williams said.

Work by helicopter was wrapped up Monday on a 31,000-acre fire on Fort Greely that began May 15 on the bombing range. While the cause of the fire remains undetermined, it likely was sparked by military exercises, Williams said.

Firefighters were not allowed in because of the ordinances in the area. Instead, fire retardant was dropped by helicopter to protect military equipment.

A seven-acre fire at the entrance of Denali National Park was contained Monday. The fire began Sunday and may have been caused by a power line.

After a busy week, the Kenai Peninsula got a respite Tuesday with no new fires reported, said Crista Cady of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Thirteen fires burned about 26 acres.

Cady said burn permits had been suspended, but burn barrels were being allowed as long as they had a screened top and the area around them was clear. Small campfires also were being allowed.

The danger is not over, Cady said.

''Wind has picked up. We're still hot and dry,'' she said.



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