A human-caused wildfire that started Monday afternoon had grown into a 120-acre blaze, with dozens of firefighters working Tuesday to contain the fire, near Mile 17 Chena Hot Springs Road east of the Interior city of Fairbanks. They have since subdued the blaze, which an Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman described as a “smoldering ground fire.”
No evacuations are in place, and no structures have been damaged, as firefighters work to secure the line.
But “the fire is burning in a populated area, and in some cases very near homes,” writes Maggie Rogers, information officer at the Alaska Division of Forestry. "People are asked to please stay out of the area that had fire in it or is burning."
As of 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, fire information officer Pete Buist said several residences and a handful of outbuildings still were in danger, but crews continued to wrangle problem spots.
“We had helicopter bucket drops throughout the afternoon, but the fire hasn't moved since 10:30 p.m. (Monday) night,” Buist said. “If we get through today’s burning period, we’ll be in good shape tomorrow. But we still have structures that are in danger and will be in danger until the fire is completely contained.”
What's being called the Kanuti fire started in black spruce, driven by wind. Seventy-two firefighters responded, including smoke jumpers and multiple fire departments, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.
The coordination center says the fire was human-caused, in part, because there are two ways wildfires spark: humans or lightning strikes. And since Fairbanks had no lightning Monday, the fire started one of a thousand possible ways by someone nearby, Buist said.
Melissa West, a server at Two Rivers Lodge, had to evacuate the local restaurant at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
“You could see the flames and fire right there,” she said. “It looked like it was coming fast.”
Only a handful of customers were in the lodge when they were told to leave, but the parking lot was full of people arriving for a private party. They “had to close it down and run,” West said. She said firefighters "saved the lodge" Monday night.
The lodge’s exterior is blackened, but the building is fully intact. Crews remain at the lodge, “wetting” its walls, just in case, Buist said.
Electricity was shut off to West’s home Monday night, but is back up now.
As of 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, traffic is allowed in both directions on Chena Hot Springs Road, but unplanned delays may occur depending on fire activity. A temporary flight restriction in the airspace over the fire has been issued.
The fire remains under investigation.
Jerzy Shedlock contributed to this article. Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com