Crews shift focus to Alaska's largest wildfire

July 15, 2009 

A large Alaska wildfire sparked by lightning more than three weeks ago continues to increase in size, but firefighters are keeping the blaze from taking off.

The Railbelt Complex fire 12 miles from Nenana is actually three fires, and at 161,344 acres Wednesday was considered the largest fire in the nation.

Firefighters were able to keep the 360-acre June Creek fire, the smallest of the Railbelt three, from growing in dry conditions brought on by weeks of hot, sunny weather. Gary Lehnhausen of the state Division of Forestry said firefighters have laid firehose around the fire's perimeter, and it should be contained within the next day or two.

Firefighters also have kept the 4,515-acre Lunch Lake fire from destroying high-value timber stands.

Lehnhausen said firefighters now will focus on the largest of the three -- the 156,469-acre Minto Flats South fire -- to keep it from destroying homes and cabins.

More than 350 firefighters are assigned to the Railbelt Complex fire, including five hotshot crews.

The 13,761-acre Shanta Creek fire 5 miles southeast of Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula also was a concern, fire officials said.

Nearly 500 firefighters have been assigned to that fire, sparked by lighting about two weeks ago.

Firefighters have been able to keep the Shanta Creek fire away from several subdivisions four miles to the north, said Pete Buist, information officer with the Division of Forestry.

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