Alaska wildfires have burned 1 million acres

July 20, 2009 

Firefighters on Monday were conducting burnout operations on a large wildfire of more than 200,000 acres near Nenana in hopes of removing fuels and keeping the blaze from moving closer to cabins along the Teklanika River.

Water-scooping aircraft also were being used on the Railbelt Complex fire.

The Railbelt fire was begun by lightning nearly a month ago and has grown to nearly 219,000 acres. It is one of several large wildfires burning in Alaska, where so far this year more than 400 fires have burned more than 1 million acres in the state.

State officials say the Railbelt Complex fire is affecting air quality, especially north of Denali National Park where the smoke-filled air has been deemed unhealthy and even hazardous at times.

Firefighters were helping people living in cabins near Nenana clear trees and brush from around their homes in the event that a growing wildfire reaches dozens of cabins along the Teklanika River.

Residents also were being told to remove wood piles from against their homes and store four-wheelers, snowmachines and machinery with flammable liquids away from structures.

Several property owners have purchased pumps and sprinklers and were getting help from firefighters in setting the equipment up.

"We have had folks in the area between the fire and cabin corridor for the whole last week," Jennifer Yuhas, a spokeswoman for the Railbelt Complex fire, said Monday. "To date, we've been successful." The fire is creeping along through the hardwoods, finding small stands of black spruce to feed on inside an established perimeter.

The fire had moved to within a mile and a half of the cabins but had not moved closer for a couple of days, Yuhas said. The fire was continuing to grow but not advancing in any specific direction. It was staying inside its perimeter, Yuhas said.

More than 280 firefighters are assigned to it.

A fire burning in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park about 13 1/2 miles from the town of McCarthy made a 3-mile run on Sunday. The Chakina fire had the chance of gaining more ground on Monday afternoon when winds were likely to pick up again, said Tina Boehle, spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

The fire was 30,000 acres and growing on Monday, she said. "It was very active (Sunday)," Boehle said.

Firefighters are most concerned that the fire will reach and jump across the Chitina River, where there are some occupied structures.

More resources were being put on the fire, Boehle said, including six Division of Forestry fire engines.

The road from Chitina to McCarthy was open. However, officials are advising people to keep their headlights on because of poor visibility caused by smoke.

A fire burning inside the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was 80 percent contained on Monday.

The Shanta Creek fire north of Tustumena Lake began on June 30, also by lightning. It was estimated to be 13,221 acres on Monday but a light rain was keeping it from growing. The fire was smoldering and creeping in places.

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