Wildfire threatens Central and Goodpaster River cabins

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) Fire crews on Wednesday continued to battle two Interior wildfires that threatened homes near Central and cabins along the Goodpaster River.

Meanwhile, fire officials were hoping containment efforts would hold against strong winds and dry conditions predicted for much of the Interior. By late Wednesday afternoon, however, winds remained relatively calm, gusting only occasionally. Temperatures were lower than expected and humidity was higher, officials said.

''The weather gave us a break today,'' said Alaska Fire Service spokesman Andy Williams.

One fire was less than a mile northeast of Central and had grown to 1,500 acres after it was apparently sparked by lightning Tuesday, fire officials said. The other fire, caused by lightning Saturday near the Goodpaster River, was estimated at 23,000 acres.

The Central-area fire forced the evacuation of five homes in the area, while threatening eight private properties a half mile away, said Alaska Fire Service spokesman Andy Williams. The blaze was first spotted north of the Steese Highway about three miles east of Central, a mining community of about 120 people a hundred air miles northeast of Fairbanks.

The state Department of Transportation closed mile 128.5 of the highway that evening after the fire jumped the roadway.

''The winds were strong enough to blow the flames across and ignite the other side,'' said Dennis Cooper, a DOT foreman. The highway was reopened Wednesday morning, but Cooper said motorists should use caution as crews tried to stem the wildfire.

Crews used dozers Tuesday evening to build fire lines along the east and west flanks of the fire and contain spots where the blaze crossed Albert Creek just east of the community.

Williams said the fire is in a mandatory protection area because of its proximity to the town.

''Our top priority is defense of life and property and this certainly qualifies for that,'' he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Crews also continued to tackle the 23,000-acre fire near the Goodpaster River about 25 miles northeast of Delta Junction. The fire gained 13,000 acres Tuesday.

''We had a big day,'' said Division of Forestry spokesman Pete Buist. ''You have a big fire under dry conditions and some winds, it's not unusual to double in size and then some in a day.''

The fire was fueled by white and black spruce and was so intense it burned right through stands of hardwood trees, which normally slow wildfires, Buist said.

About 85 firefighters were assigned to the area, building a hand-dug fire line along Sand Creek. They ignited a defensive burn along the line to protect structures at two private Native allotments, although an outhouse burned in the fire, Buist said.

Crews were also working to protect 75 cabins downstream from the forks in the Goodpaster. Fire retardant was not an option because the terrain is so steep, Buist said.

Officials said 10 new fires were reported Tuesday, for a total of 19 wildfires burning in Alaska Wednesday. So far this year, 290 fires statewide have burned 40,600 acres, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

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