Weather gives wildfire crews a break

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) State fire officials said Thursday a 1,500-acre wildfire near Central could be fully contained Friday if Alaska's Interior weather continued to cooperate.

Crews, however, were still trying to get a handle on a 23,400-acre fire smoldering toward dozens of recreational cabins along the Goodpaster River northeast of Delta Junction.

Just outside Central, crews continued to dig a line around the perimeter of the Albert Creek fire. As of Thursday morning, the blaze was 75 percent contained, with full containment expected by 6 p.m. Friday, said Alaska Fire Service spokesman Andy Williams.

Altogether, 144 people were assigned to the fire.

The fire was sparked by lightning Tuesday about two miles from Central, a mining community of 120 people northeast of Fairbanks. Driven by strong winds, the blaze quickly grew, jumping the Steese Highway before it was blocked Tuesday night by firefighters within a mile of town.

Winds calmed on Wednesday and Thursday, giving crews the break they needed to gain the upper hand.

''If the winds increase it might cause a problem, but it might also help show the hot spots,'' Williams said. ''When the fire is contained, it's not going to escape under reasonable conditions.''

Early on, some residents were forced to evacuate from several homes threatened by the fire. Those residents returned Wednesday night after the threat had lessened, Williams said.

Near Delta Junction, crews had contained only about 4 percent of the 23,400-acre fire near Goodpaster River, fire officials said.

''Basically what that percentage reflects is cabin protection on four groups of structures closest to the fire,'' said Division of Forestry spokesman Pete Buist.

Winds had died down in the area, slowing the spread of the blaze, which was caused by lightning Saturday in the Sand Creek drainage.

A total of 136 people were assigned to the Sand Creek fire. They focused much of their efforts Thursday on protecting the first of 75 cabins downstream from the forks of the Goodpaster, Buist said.

Crews also were tackling two active areas at the other end of the fire. One was at the northwest corner of the perimeter and the other was at the northeast edge a few miles from a cluster of cabins and outbuildings, said fire information officer Kris Eriksen.

Two helicopters dropped buckets of water on the blaze. Nine river boats were transporting firefighters and equipment, Buist said.

Fire retardant was tried early in the fire but was not a good option because the terrain is so steep, Buist said. To be effective, planes must fly low to the ground when dropping the retardant, he said.

Statewide, nine new fires were reported Wednesday, for a total of 23 wildfires burning in Alaska, officials said. So far this year, 299 fires statewide have burned 40,700 acres, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

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