Interior Wildfires flare up

Posted: Monday, August 05, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Smoke so thick that even firefighting aircraft couldn't do their work layered the middle and western Tanana Valley on Sunday as high temperatures across the region sent existing wildfires racing across the landscape.

Meanwhile, a new fire near Arctic Circle Hot Springs, ignited by lightning, was reported Saturday and seen burning near Medicine Lake.

By Sunday evening the fire had grown to 1,200 acres and was burning east of the Circle Hot Springs Road and south of the Steese Highway.

''If it went in either of those two directions it could become a problem,'' Andy Williams, spokesman for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The blaze was about four miles northeast of Arctic Circle Hot Springs Resort.

A fire crew from Fort Yukon was headed to the fire to replace eight smoke jumpers sent in on Saturday.

The smoke that covered the Fairbanks area Sunday came mostly from the Geskakmina Lake fire, which had grown to 118,500. Smoke kept fire crews from flying into the area, south of Manley Hot Springs, so a boat was used to ferry in personnel to protect cabins on the Kantishna River.

The lightning-caused fire started June 8. Boats were also used to move crews to the 21,700-acre North Fork fire, which again has moved to within two miles of the village of Medfra. Those crews joined others already at the scene in setting up hose, pumps and sprinkler systems to protect buildings from the fire, which lightning ignited on July 17. A fire management team has been set up at the Medfra airstrip.

''We do quite a bit (by boat). Sometimes it's the easiest and it's cheaper,'' Williams said.

At Lake Minchumina, a staging area has been set up so that crews can better respond to several fires burning in the area. One fire crew has been sent to protect buildings on the north side of the lake and others will do similar work on fires burning to the southwest and northeast.

Fires ranged in size Sunday from 5,200 acres to 52,000 acres. The National Weather Service reported that visibility was down to half mile Sunday morning at its recording station near Lake Minchumina.

Crews were also working on the 76,700-acre Colorado Creek fire, 50 miles north of McGrath. Smoke jumpers and others were sent to protect buildings at a nearby mine. Smoke from the Interior fires had reached all of Denali National Park by Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

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