Alaska’s firefighters focused their efforts on a growing blaze near the Interior city of Fairbanks Wednesday. Dreary weather offered some respite to fire crews battling the Stuart Creek fire, but an evacuation watch was still in place for area residents, many of whom moved livestock away from the flames.
The fire, located near Chena Hot Springs Road and four miles from the Chena River, grew 5,000 acres in 24 hours, moving south and east, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. Now the blaze has scorched about 50,000 acres.
An evacuation watch was issued by the Fairbanks North Star Borough on Tuesday, and the watch remains in place despite cooler, wet weather. The evacuation watch is in place for residents between Mileposts 14 and 32 of the road. A total of 226 structures are scattered in that area, and 220 of them are homes, said center spokesman Joe Anderson.
Crews have started positioning pumps and hoses to protect the structures ahead of the fire. Anderson did not know how close the fire was to any of the structures but said flames were about 5.2 miles from Milepost 26. Some residents have already moved livestock to the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds.
Weather slowed the fire’s growth Wednesday, as cooler temperatures, higher humidity, light winds and rain provided some relief. Overcast weather is expected to last until Saturday.
The vegetation feeding the flames, however, is exceptionally dry, Anderson said. Even if a heavy downpour drenches the area, the fire’s fuels would still lack moisture, he said.
Another fire management team has been called to the area, and additional crews around the state are making their way to the Stuart Creek 2 Fire. It’s the second fire to burn near the creek, but the first, which firefighters continue to monitor, is much smaller, just 250 acres.
Zig Zag Hotshots based out of Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon have been reassigned from a Denali National Park-based lightning-caused fire to the more dangerous Stuart Creek Fire. The military is investigating the cause of the fire. A public information officer at Fort Wainwright, a U.S. Army post adjacent to Fairbanks, did not return a call for comment.
Smoke from the numerous fires statewide are visible throughout much of Alaska, with a haze expected to persist in the Interior this week. Travelers are being asked to remain alert on roadways, where smoke is thick.
Elsewhere, Skinny’s Road fire, the 388th wildfire this season, has burned about 1,800 acres but is now 55 percent contained, according to the center. The fire is near Milepost 238 of the Parks Highway. The state is using pilot cars to guide traffic between Mileposts 322 and 332 of the highway, and a flight restriction is in place over the fire.
Smoke is visible along the Richardson Highway, too, in the Meiers Lake area due to the 1,465-acre Excelsior fire, which lightning ignited a week ago. The fire isn’t staffed, but the Alaska Division of Forestry is monitoring it.
A total of 103 are burning statewide; 12 fires are staffed. A total of 427 fires have burned 921,496 acres so far this year.
Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com