Wildfires send smoke into Fairbanks

Posted: Tuesday, August 06, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Fires throughout the Interior continued to burn, sending thick smoke into Fairbanks and prompting an air quality warning from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality alert Monday afternoon.

''Air quality levels are considered to be unhealthy in the Fairbanks area and will remain so as long as the fire activity continues,'' said Gerry Guay, project manager for the DEC's air monitoring section. ''This is in the range where it is unhealthy even for people with normal health.''

People with respiratory and heart problems, as well as children and the elderly, should avoid any outdoor activity, Guay said. Everyone else should avoid ''prolonged exertion.''

Most of the smoke blanketing Fairbanks on Monday blew in from the Geskakmina Lake Fire east of the city, said Andy Williams, spokesman for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. ''There is a lot of fire to the west of us and with those west winds it is pumping the smoke right up the valley into Fairbanks.''

Fire officials say the Geskakmina Lake fire was last estimated at 118,000 acres several days ago, but it has probably grown considerably larger since then, Williams said.

Fire crews are going from cabin to cabin activating sprinkler systems. The flare up in fire activity-spurred by hot temperatures and wind is unusual for this time of year, Williams said. ''Usually in August it is raining and the fire season is over.''

Late-season fires are usually more difficult to suppress, he added, since the ground is drier now than it is in the early summer.

The lightning-caused Ketchem Creek Fire near Arctic Circle Hot Springs expanded to about 1,500 acres Monday. Residents from nearby Central are getting ready to protect the community, said Jim Crabb, owner of Crabb's Corner, a local store, restaurant and bar.

''We are preparing our Cats for putting fire breaks in,'' he said. ''We are not going to let it get into Central if we can help it.''

Eight 16-person firefighter crews were working the fire, Williams said, as were eight smokejumpers and a helicopter crew.

Another fire burning south of the Elliott Highway prompted a warning to motorists to avoid driving the highway between Livengood and Minto. The human-caused Mile 78 Fire, which ignited on May 23, was burning within a mile of the highway near Mile 95, Williams said.

Fires northeast of McGrath, near Lake Minchumina and north of Venetie also continued to burn Monday.

The National Weather Service was forecasting a change in wind direction soon, according to meteorologist Dan Hancock.

''Winds right now are coming out of the west to southwest and will be turning to the northwest,'' he said. That should bring cooler weather and perhaps some relief from the smoke, Hancock said.

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