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Posted: Monday, June 20, 2005

Firefighters focus on blaze near Fort Yukon FAIRBANKS (AP) — A fire 15 miles northeast of Fort Yukon has grown steadily and is the top priority for forest firefighters in Alaska.

About 250 firefighters have been assigned to fight the Sheenjek River Fire.

According to the Alaska Fire Service, the blaze grew from 15,000 acres early Friday to 23,510 on Saturday morning, said incident commander Tom Kurth, who is heading up the command station at the Yukon River village.

''We had a fairly serious fire weather day today, from the standpoint of it being windy and from a direction we would prefer it not to come from,'' Kurth said.

Firefighting efforts are focused on the southern and western sides of the fire. Crews are based out of Fort Yukon and out of four main spike camps along the Porcupine River.

Major efforts are focused on Native allotments and cabins along the Sheenjek and Porcupine rivers, Kurth said. He characterized the day as a relatively good one for firefighters, despite winds that were ''fairly steady at about 20 mph.''

Early Friday, winds from the west pushed the fire north and east into the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge and onto lands burned last year in the Winter Trail Fire, which was part of the Solstice Fire Complex. Most of the growth in the fire was to the north and northeast early in the day.

The fire will continue to grow in that direction, where management plans call for letting the land burn, Kurth said.

Later Friday, however, the wind switched and started blowing from the east.

''It turned a 180 on us,'' Kurth said. ''We had a good day, despite the weather.''

Kurth said there are nine crews working about 20 miles of fire lines on the south and west sides of the fire.

''It's the No. 1 priority fire now,'' he said. ''It's large and we have a lot of resources dedicated to it because it has the potential to threaten Fort Yukon ... but it has a lot of country to work through and our suppression efforts are focused on the southern and western sides.''

The fire, at only about 20 acres, was first noticed by a fire jumper crew that was returning from another fire June 12.

The cause is under investigation.

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Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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