Air tankers called out again to help fight McGrath fire

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Air tankers continued Saturday to dump retardant on a fire near McGrath that has grown to 88,000 acres and come to within six miles of the Interior town.

Fifty-one thousand gallons of retardant, or 17 loads, were dumped on the fire Friday. The air tankers were called out again mid-afternoon on Saturday, said Maria Wade, a logistics coordinator for the Alaska Division of Forestry.

The wildfire was burning southeast of the town when strong winds began blowing it north on Thursday afternoon. It burned to within six miles of the town. Firefighters, who had been cutting fire line, were called back to the town to establish defensible space.

A Type 2 Incident Management Team -- teams that manage large fires -- was briefed on the McGrath fire late Saturday morning. The team will take command of the fire on Monday, said the Forestry Division's Andy Alexandrou.

''It is very, very impressive,'' Alexandrou said of the fire, which was sending a large black and gray plume of smoke into the air on Saturday afternoon.

Alexandrou said the fire had not moved any closer to McGrath, and the work firefighters did on Thursday and Friday was effective.

On Saturday, firefighters were focusing their efforts on the head of the fire, which was being doused with retardant. Helicopters also were dropping water.

Earlier in the week, four people in McGrath with respiratory problems were evacuated. The town has about 400 residents.

Firefighters battling two other large fires were benefitting from scattered thunderstorms and slackening winds, a fire official said.

''The weather has moderated,'' said Andy Williams of the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Williams said officials were considering releasing a couple of crews from the Chena Hot Springs Road fire. A total of 363 firefighters, including a Type 2 Incident Management Team and 12 fire crews, have been fighting the blaze, which began May 23 near Mile 52 of the Chena Hot Springs Road. The road remains closed at Mile 39.6 near the Granite Tors Campground.

Four more hotshot crews were added to a fire near Livengood, which has been burning since the third week in May. A Type 2 Incident Management Team has taken command of that fire. After making good progress Friday morning, fire activity picked up late in the day. Firefighters were successful in keeping the blaze from the Elliott Highway. The fire jumped the highway on Thursday, forcing it to be temporarily shut down.

The Livengood fire has consumed nearly 92,000 acres.

There were 24 fires burning in Alaska. Five of those fires were being fought and the others were being monitored. So far this year, 264 fires have burned more than 370,000 acres.

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