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Tyonek, Beluga remain on alert while another fire nears pipeline

Zaz Hollander
An air tanker drops water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters mop up hot spots along Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return to their homes.
Loren Holmes
A river boat stands offshore in front of the fire line on the south side of the Kenai River at 2:03 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter dumps water on the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A bulldozer clears a fire line on Saturday, May 24, 2014, protecting the Funny River neighborhood from a wildfire that has topped 100 thousand acres in size.
Loren Holmes
Jeff Stark of the Alaska Smokejumpers lays fire hose at a cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighter Spencer McLean of Central Emergency Services places a water and foam mixture on the on the brush and trees along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News Boaters, bikers, four-wheeler enthusiasts and others flocked to Eklutna Lake in Chugach State Park on Memorial Day, May 26, 2014, despite heavy smoke from the wildfires burning in Southcentral Alaska.
Anne Raup
Local resident Sue Looney watches for embers jumping the river on the Kenai Keys side of the Kenai River at 2:13 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
Members of the Houston, Alaska fire department stage their personnel and equipment in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. The area was later evacuated.
Loren Holmes
A pyrocumulonimbus cloud forms above the northern flank of the Funny River fire on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Jeff Stark of the Alaska Smokejumpers lays fire hose at a cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A firefighter from Central Emergency Service monitors the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Wildfire smoke obscures the Chugach Mountains as Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks at the Anchorage Veterans Memorial Rededication Ceremony held Monday morning, May 26, 2014, on the Delaney Park Strip.
Erik Hill
Fire crews arrive and help search through dense smoke to find embers in the Kenai Keys Subdivision at 2:42 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
From left, Arianna Moonin, 11, Tristan Moonin, 8, Kammy Highlands-Vatshelle, 9, Elias Moonin, 12, and Tatiana Moonin, 9 play on a trampoline in the Funny River neighborhood while a forest fire burns behind them on Sunday, May 25, 2014. Their neighborhood was evacuated an hour later.
Loren Holmes
Dan Desmarais, left, helps his neighbor John Hohl water his home and yard in advance of the nearby Funny River fire on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. HohlÕs home is near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna.
Loren Holmes
Land owners check on their Bear Creek cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters hydrate while monitoring the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Helicopters dump water on flames on the south side of the Kenai River to hold the line at 3:08 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
A helicopter drops water on a hot spot near the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
An airplane prepares to drop retardant on a fire burning on the edge of Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Wildland firefighters and supplies are positioned at the Bear Creek subdivision on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A firefighter works the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Gov
Helicopters scoop water from the Kenai River to hold the line on the south side of the river at 3:09 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter gathers water from Aurora Lake to dump on the Funny River fire, burning nearby on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A fire burns on the edge of Lake Road in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Streams of smoke billow from the Funny River wildfire along the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A goat named Snickers that lives at Mile 9 of Funny River Road was relocated to Soldotna during the wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Planes dump water on the south side of the Kenai River at 3:34 p.m. Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
Driver Mike Morris monitors a ridge beyond a group of firefighters working on a fire line near Aurora Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. Morris is looking for any sign of the fire encroaching on the firefighters.
Loren Holmes
Chris Lucas watches a fire burn near his home off of Lake Road in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A helicopter shuttles firefighters to the remote Bear Creek subdivision on north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
Sierra Chapman, 11, feeds leaves from a tree to some of the 10 goats and 4 Alpaca's that live at Mile 9 of Funny River Road that were relocated to Soldotna on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Central Emergency Services firefighter Sarah Smith informs Funny River residents Pete Chaussee, left, Angela Rhodes, and Dan Smith of the current Funny River fire conditions from a lookout point at the end of Alaska View Lane in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter prepares to gather water from Aurora Lake to dump on the Funny River fire, burning nearby on Sunday, May 25, 2014. Behind the helicopter is a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, created by fire activity on the north east edge of the fire.
Loren Holmes
John Hohl, left, rushes to clear spruce from his home near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. With him is his brother Levi Hohl, in red, and friend Sam Werner.
Loren Holmes
Photo by Karol Raszkiewicz Smoke from the Funny River Horse Trail fire rises above the peninsula Thursday evening, May 22, 2014. Raszkiewicz was on a flight from Dillingham to Anchorage when she made the aerial image of the smoke.
Karol Raszkiewicz
A helicopter dropped water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
John Hohl walks the fire line near his home on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014. He and his brother were putting out hot spots.
Loren Holmes
Children play on a trampoline north of Browns Lake Road on Rabbit Run on Sunday afternoon, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A firefighter warns Sam Werner, left, and Levi Hohl of a fire that jumped a fire line a half mile from where they were working to try to secure Levi HohlÕs brotherÕs property near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. They were evacuated shortly afterwards.
Loren Holmes
Heavy smoke from the Funny River wildfire is visible in the distance from Erik Hansen Scout Park in Kenai on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
Incident commander Rob Allen of the Alaska Incident Management Team addresses questions during a community meeting at Tustumena Elementary School near Kasilof that was attended by over two hundred people on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
A helicopter that dropped water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014, gets another bucket of water.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Sam Werner walks a fire line near Browns Lake, looking for hot spots, on Saturday, May 24, 2014. The Funny River fire had burned up to the line three hours before.
Loren Holmes
An airplane drops retardant on a fire line near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
John Hohl, right, is exhausted and frustrated after being evacuated from his home near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. From a neighborÕs home, he watched the fire burn less than a half mile from his home.
Loren Holmes
Rem West hits a tee shot on the 7th hole at the Bird Homestead Golf Course off Funny River Road on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014, with a column of smoke from the wildfire visible in the distance.
Bill Roth
A helicopter dropped water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
A hot spot flares up along the edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014. The Funny River fire was temporarily stopped here overnight, but changing conditions prompted officials to issue an evacuation order for neighborhoods directly across the line.
Loren Holmes
Dan Desmarais, left, and Steve Schumacher watch the Funny River fire from DesmaraisÕ deck on Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Sam Werner rests in Dan DesmaraisÕ yard after working furiously to clear trees from his friend John HohlÕs nearby property near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. Werner and others were told to evacuate as the fire jumped a fire line less than a half mile from HohlÕs home.
Loren Holmes
Wildfire officials held a community meeting at Tustumena Elementary School near Kasilof that was attended by over two hundred people on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
The Hooper Bay crew, Type 2 wildland firefighters, hike towards the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Central Emergency Services firefighters put out hot spots along the edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014. The Funny River fire was temporarily stopped here overnight, but changing conditions prompted officials to issue an evacuation order for neighborhoods directly across the line.
Loren Holmes
Helicopters drop water on the Funny River fire near Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Skilak lake is shrouded in smoke from the Funny River fire on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Wildfire officials held a community meeting at Tustumena Elementary School near Kasilof that was attended by over two hundred people on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Sterling resident Brian McCorison drove up Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 to check out the area where the Funny River fire was thought to have started. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return.
Loren Holmes
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighters prepare to hike into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Fire reaches the south side of the Kenai River, just across from the Kenai Keys Subdivision, at 1:50 p.m. Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
Central Emergency Services firefighters walk the fire line along the edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A fire flares up south of Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A sign warns campers of burn bans in effect at a campsite along Skilak Lake Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Clouds of smoke rise above small airplanes parked at the Soldotna Airport near Funny River Road on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Sterling resident Brian McCorison drove up Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 to check out the area where the Funny River fire was thought to have started. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return.
Loren Holmes
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighters prepare to hike into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Boats and equipment are ferried away from a cabin and away from the approaching fire on the south side of the Kenai River at 1:54 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, near Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
Central Emergency Services firefighter Sarah Smith informs residents Mike Foust and Danna Moisii of the current Funny River fire conditions from a lookout point at the end of Alaska View Lane in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. In the distance, a hot spot flares up from the still very active fire.
Loren Holmes
From left, Levi Hohl, Steve Schumacher, John Hohl and Dan Desmarais watch fire activity from DesmaraisÕ deck on Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Photo courtesy of Fred and Cecilia Colvin A resident took a picture of the wall of flame erupting about 10:35 p.m. Friday night (May 23, 2014) off Heavy Down Drive near mile 105 on the east side of the Sterling Highway before people there were evacuated.
Fred and Cecilia Colvin
Smokey warns motorist driving south on the Sterling Highway near Soldotna that the fire danger was "Extreme" on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Officials lifted the evacuation order for the Funny River neighborhood on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, and residents began returning shortly after 9:00am.
Loren Holmes
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighter crew hikes into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
A last load out from a cabin on the south side of the Kenai River is unloaded on the gravel beach at Kenai Keys at 1:58 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
The Funny River fire burns near the northern edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
An ember burns in the northern portion of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, May 24, 2014. The area, along a fire line south of Browns Lake, had burned three hours before.
Loren Holmes
Mary Joe McElroy, Katie Blossom, and Marina Bosick get an update on the Funny River wildfire by cell phone at their Bear Creek cabin in the remote subdivision on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A bulldozer clears a line off Funny River Road on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters mop up hot spots along Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return to their homes.
Loren Holmes
Firefighter Matt Tegerdine of Central Emergency Services monitors a hot spot to prevent the wildfire from crossing Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Smoke obscures sight of a cabin on the south side of the Kenai River at 1:59 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
The Funny River fire burns near the northern edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Firefighters douse hot spots along a fire line near Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Streaks of wildfire debris float on the surface of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
The Chena Hot Shots, a Type 1 wildland firefighting crew from Fairbanks, hikes along Funny River Road while battling the wildfire on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters mop up hot spots along Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return to their homes.
Loren Holmes
Trees burn to the edge of the water on the south side of the Kenai River at 2:01 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
Central Emergency Services firefighters monitor hot spots that had crossed the fire line near Alaska View Lane in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. The area was evacuated later that day.
Loren Holmes
Sam Werner, left, and Levi Hohl put out hot spots along a fire line near HohlÕs brotherÕs home near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday, May 24, 2014. The Funny River fire had burned up to the line three hours before.
Loren Holmes
Jeff Stark of the Alaska Smokejumpers lays fire hose at a cabin in the on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth

A wildfire that threatened Tyonek earlier in the week was making a renewed push toward the neighboring community of Beluga on Wednesday evening along the northwest shores of Cook Inlet.

A new fire also started Tuesday near the Dalton Highway's Yukon River Bridge and the trans-Alaska pipeline.

The Tyonek fire destroyed a cabin and two outbuildings outside Beluga overnight into Wednesday, authorities said. Local residents said they were abandoned and located near an old barge landing.

No evacuation orders were issued for the area Wednesday. Tyonek residents who evacuated Monday and returned to their homes Tuesday night were told to be ready to leave again if necessary, authorities said. Fire commanders warned Beluga residents to be ready to move just in case.

By Wednesday night, the fire estimated during the day at 1,500 acres and largely stable was blowing up again on its northwest corner where crews had hoped to contain it in an area of wetlands, authorities said. Locals reported big black plumes of smoke rising from the forest.

Norm McDonald, the Alaska Division of Forestry fire management officer in Palmer, was on the phone with the fire's incident commander around 6 p.m. when the commander told McDonald he had to go. Too much fire activity to talk.

"Things have picked up a little bit," McDonald said. "This is about the same time as last night."

On Tuesday the fire was burning near Tyonek, but then a sudden wind shift from the south around dinnertime sent flames within two miles of Beluga.

By 8 p.m. Wednesday, the flames burned a mile south of Beluga. About 100 firefighters cut firelines to try to hold the fire as northerly winds blew in from Cook Inlet, said Renette Saba, a spokeswoman with the state Division of Forestry.

"The winds are kind of a problem because they're changing," she said. "Apparently it's not as usual here to have this northerly flow from the Inlet. That's sort of what they don't want and that's what they're getting."

Wednesday night, Beluga resident Clark Smith watched approvingly as hotshot crews lit a backburn to get rid of fuel for the fire, which was burning about 11/2 miles from his house. The wind had shifted again, Smith said.

"Right now we're looking at a smoke plume that's going to the north," he said.

Two air tankers dropped retardant to slow the fire's spread, fire officials said. Three helicopters are assigned to the fire. Three wildland fire crews and members of the Nikiski fire department on the Beluga side worked to clear "defensible" space around cabins and a natural gas compressor station.

An incident management team from Washington state was expected to get to the fire by Friday, McDonald said. Ten separate wildland firefighter crews -- half of them hotshots, half initial attack -- were trickling into Anchorage on Wednesday from the Lower 48 to be split between the Tyonek and Kenai fires, he said.

YUKON FIRE NEARS PIPELINE

The Dalton River Crossing fire was originally reported Tuesday by a pilot at 10 acres but was "significantly" bigger Wednesday and expected to hit the highway, Fairbanks-based state Division of Forestry fire information officer Pete Buist said.

The fire has the potential to spread to several structures as well as the pipeline, Buist said. Several people noted that numerous fires have burned near the pipeline since at least 1976 -- the year before it began transporting oil -- and most recently about 10 years ago.

By Wednesday afternoon the fire was a little under two miles east of the pipeline, which crosses the Yukon on the highway bridge, said Alyeska Pipeline Co. spokeswoman Katie Pesznecker. The company is monitoring the fire and has positioned bulldozers on the north bank of the river, the side on which the fire is burning. Alyeska also has a water truck at a nearby decommissioned pump station, Pesznecker said.

The fire started about three miles east of the highway but west winds were pushing it toward the road, Buist said. Sixteen smokejumpers and a helicopter were working to protect several structures in the area.

One of the structures is Yukon River Camp, a seasonal restaurant, truck stop and hotel at the spot halfway between Fairbanks and the Brooks Range. The seven employees working at the food and fuel stop are monitoring the fire, said Matt Atkinson, Fairbanks coordinator for the center, which is operated by Sukakpak Inc.

High winds are pushing the fire and sending smoke down the river all the way to Rampart, he said, "which absolutely affects aviation."

The Bureau of Land Management has closed the Yukon Crossing Visitor Contact Station at Mile 56 of the highway and a campground at Mile 60 due to the fire.

HOT SPRING

An early spring with very little precipitation has left vegetation extremely dry around Southcentral Alaska. Burn permits remain suspended across a wide swath of Alaska including the Railbelt and Kodiak.

Low humidity and windy conditions set up the spate of wildfires, with commanders scrambling for people and air power.

The number of Alaska wildland and municipal firefighters battling the Tyonek fire and the much larger Funny River Horse Trail Fire on the Kenai Peninsula was pushing 200 Wednesday, with dozens more en route from the Lower 48. State forestry officials said the sheer number of people working those two fires -- the only big fires in Alaska right now -- show how complex both are.

Both remained uncontained -- not surrounded by suppression line like fuel breaks, dozer lines or a natural barrier -- as of Wednesday afternoon.

"We don't mobilize this amount of resources because everything's going smoothly," Buist said.

HELP FOR 'LITTLE VILLAGE'

Given unpredictable weather conditions, the Tyonek fire still poses a threat to Tyonek and Beluga as well as the Chugach Electric Association power plant north of Beluga, area natural gas lines, and oil and gas facilities like drilling pads and wells, according to an Alaska Interagency Coordination Center update Wednesday.

Chugach officials said the fire did not immediately threaten the plant Wednesday and was still about five miles away. Natalie Lowman, a spokeswoman for ConocoPhillips, said the fire had not impacted the corporation's gas field by evening, though she did not know how far away the flames burned.

Fire commanders gave Tyonek residents who evacuated Monday the OK to return home during a meeting Tuesday night. But many people, especially families with children, remained Wednesday at the Tyonek Lodge outside the village, or at fish camps on the beach or in a timber camp, said Tyonek tribal administrator Donita Slawson.

Fighting a fire off the road system made for logistical problems. Slawson was busy Wednesday morning trying to find a way to get vehicle fluids -- gasoline, motor oil, steering fluid -- to Tyonek by air as well as more food for displaced local and fire crews that are expected to double the local population soon. She put out a call on her Facebook page Wednesday, saying the village needs "every vehicle & ATV we can use right now."

The Tyonek Native Corp. is collecting food for air shipment to the village. All the activity at the Tyonek airstrip, however, meant that Spernak Airways is flying supplies into the strip at the remote oil worker camp at Shirleyville, 45 minutes away from the village, Slawson said.

The flow of firefighters into the Tyonek airstrip made things too congested for deliveries.

"We just so much appreciate everything everyone's doing to help save our homes and our way of life," she said. "We're just a little village."

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or (907) 352-6705.

The Tebughna Foundation has started an account at Wells Fargo to accept donations for food and other supplies for displaced Tyonek residents and firefighters. The account number is 775 854 3065.

 


By ZAZ HOLLANDER
zhollander@adn.com