Wildfire smoke blankets Fairbanks

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) A fire 25 miles south of Tanana has sent haze toward Fairbanks and prompted health warnings.

The Big Mud Fire, named for an area river, is a 35,500-acre blaze raging 150 miles west of Fairbanks.

The fire began June 22 but damp weather kept it in check until the past few days, according to Maggie Rogers of the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

''That fire, when it first started, got some rain, which kind of slowed things down, and it's heating up,'' she said.

The fire gained about 32,000 acres in the past few days and a 10- to 12-mile-long front of flames from the blaze was reported moving to the north and east.

No efforts are being made to fight the fire.

''It's pretty much out in the middle of nowhere,'' Rogers said.

While the fire may be isolated, its smoke has been blown by west winds into the most populated area of the Interior. Smoke has reached Tanana, Fairbanks and Nenana and stretched east to Delta Junction.

The smoke is expected to follow a trend of thickening at night, then thinning in afternoons. Rain is expected to hit the fire Saturday, which may begin to cut down on the smoke.

Until then, a dense smoke advisory in effect for Fairbanks and the Interior and motorists were advised to drive with caution in areas of low visibility.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued an alert Thursday that air quality in the Tanana Valley is in the ''generally unhealthy to very unhealthy'' range because of the fire. People with respiratory problems or heart disease, the elderly and children were advised to avoid prolonged exertion, and all residents were advised to limit prolonged exertion.

Three other fires remained active north and northeast of Fairbanks: the 120,000-acre Hadweenzic Fire, 50 miles north of Fort Yukon; the 4,500-acre Sheenjek Fire, 70 to 80 miles north of Fort Yukon; and the 5,100-acre Tsooktuihvun Lake Fire 28 miles north of Venetie. None are staffed

So far 404 fires have burned over 469,200 acres across the state this fire season.

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