Wind-fed Livengood fire forces closure of the Elliott Highway

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A wind-fed fire near Livengood jumped the Elliott Highway on Thursday afternoon, forcing a five-hour closure of the road to the villages of Minto and Manley Hot Springs.

The closure did not affect the section of the Elliott Highway between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay.

Meanwhile, about 50 firefighters quashed spot fires in the Goldstream Road area northwest of Fairbanks after a house fire caused propane tanks to explode.

Before the Livengood fire jumped the highway, the plan was to let it burn along the road, said Andy Williams of the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. After it spread to the north side of the highway at about 2 p.m. Thursday, that plan was put on hold.

''That may not be an option now,'' Williams said.

About 175 firefighters, including nine crews, eight smokejumpers and three helicopters, battled the fire that had burned an estimated 89,000 acres since it began a week ago seven miles west of Livengood.

Southeast winds gusting to 20 mph helped it spread across the highway.

Three loads of retardant were dumped on the fire after it jumped the highway at Milepost 87, 16 miles from Livengood, Williams said.

The spot fire eventually burned 10 acres before firefighters and aircraft dropping retardant knocked the flames down.

About 50 firefighters Thursday afternoon were called to the house fire near Fairbanks. The situation was made worse by the explosion of several propane tanks, said Pete Buist of the Alaska Division of Forestry.

Incident commander Gordon Amundson was flying overhead in a helicopter when he saw the fire burning. From his bird's-eye view, he said, it looked like a fireball when a tank exploded.

The explosions caused dozens of spot fires in the mostly black spruce near the home.

''It was a mess,'' Buist said. ''The house is completely destroyed.''

Thirty-four fires burned Thursday in Alaska. Seven of the fires were being fought while the others were being monitored. The fires have burned 289,000 acres.

Light winds and slightly higher humidity was giving firefighters battling a blaze at Mile 52 Chena Hot Springs road a fighting chance. The fire grew to 19,800 acres Thursday.

Wyn Menefee with the Alaska Division of Forestry said light winds were giving firefighters the opportunity to build fire lines next to the blaze. The fire lines were designed to prevent the fire from moving north toward the resort, he said.

The fire, which at one point was within 500 feet of the Angel Creek Lodge, was more than a mile away on Thursday.

''What we're seeing is the fire is quite a bit slower today,'' Menefee said. ''It is getting better and better.''

Chena Hot Springs Road remained closed at Mile 39.5 near the Granite Tors Campground.

Firefighters at the Vinsale fire six miles east of McGrath were called back to the town Thursday to establish defensible space, Menefee said. A flight Thursday night indicated the fire had burned 59,097 acres.

Two hot shot crews built fire line along the west side of the fire, while crews worked on fire line to the north.

Firefighters, meanwhile, contained a blaze that began Sunday in a campground at Anderson and narrowly missed burning structures in the town. Eight firefighters remained at the site to mop up after the 100-acre blaze.

An aircraft equipped with an infrared camera to map fires arrived in Alaska on Wednesday. The plane should help firefighters more accurately map the fires.

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