Zaz Hollander

Citing recent rainfall and higher humidity that have decreased wildfire danger, the Alaska Division of Forestry on Tuesday lifted the ban on open burning for some parts of the state.

The decision comes at the end of a record month for wildfire extent in Alaska, beating the previous most-fiery June 2004. It also comes just a few days before the Fourth of July holiday, when many Alaskans move into the backcountry and campgrounds for weekend recreation...

Laurel Andrews,Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- Hoping to sell a disabled former U.S. Navy prototype turned failed Cook Inlet ferry?

Try knocking a few million off the sticker price.

At least, that’s the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s latest strategy.

The M/V Susitna, the borough's high-tech ferry once on the market for $6 million, is now down to $2 million -- and five potential buyers are sniffing around.

“We’re trying to get the most we can,” borough port director Marc Van Dongen said Monday. “It’s like selling a house. You have to keep lowering the price.”...

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As fans from around the world raise money for displaced mushers, a group called Willow Community Rebuild Project has rallied a local volunteer force of about 150 people and major amounts of material and equipment to build homes for at least seven families devastated by the fire...

Zaz Hollander,Loren Holmes

WILLOW -- Musher Jan Steves unexpectedly lost her 31-year-old son, Tyler, to a heart attack June 5.

Nine days later, she was sitting in Tyler’s Seattle condo, staring out the window in grief, when the Sockeye fire sprang to life and bore down on her Willow home, her cherished sled dogs and her partner, Bob Chlupach.

The dogs got out. The house was destroyed. The fire burned an estimated 55 homes in Alaska’s dog mushing stronghold.

Steves flew back June 15 with no choice but to focus on the blackened aftermath.

“It took me away from a lot of the grief in dealing with his death but it also prolonged it,” she said Friday, taking a break from cleaning up. “It’s like a double whammy.”...

Zaz Hollander

Organizations responding to the Sockeye wildfire near Willow say they no longer need donations of household items, food or water.

Instead, organizations including The Salvation Army, the Red Cross of Alaska, MYHouse and Alaska Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters are encouraging people to make financial donations to funds set up to support the long-term needs of fire victims.

The fire destroyed at least 55 homes and many more structures.

Existing needs for donated items were quickly met by an outpouring of support, according to a press release Thursday from several groups. But now relief groups need to focus on the needs of people left without homes...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- The state’s fire situation is so dire even Alaska’s fireworks baron plans to take the Fourth of July weekend off.

Robert Hall, a 57-year-old Big Lake businessman famous for his Gorilla Fireworks franchise, owns or manages five businesses in Houston and North Pole. He has spent every Independence Day since 1984 selling pyrotechnics -- until this year.

Nearly 300 wildland fires are burning across Alaska. The 7,000-acre Sockeye fire that started June 14 just north of those colorful Houston fireworks stands destroyed 55 homes. The Card Street fire that started a few days later near Sterling destroyed 11 structures...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- The Matanuska-Susitna Borough has a new slate of potential buyers for the M/V Susitna ferry but first needs to spend $250,000 to fix water damage on the never-used craft.

The borough has received proposals from five “solid companies” to purchase the Susitna, manager John Moosey told the borough Assembly during a special meeting Wednesday in Palmer. The 195-foot U.S. Navy prototype has been berthed at Ward Cove near Ketchikan since 2011 and was never put into Cook Inlet passenger service as intended.

Heavy rains damaged the mothballed ferry’s engines in February, and borough officials have said it will cost roughly $1 million to make necessary repairs. The ferry insurance policy comes with a $250,000 deductible...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Usibelli Coal Mine has won another victory in its bid to move ahead with a potentially major coal operation near Sutton known as Wishbone Hill.

Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Myers on Monday reaffirmed a lower-level decision to renew two permits Usibelli needs to pursue the mine. Myers rejected an appeal filed by six groups, as recommended by a hearing officer in March.

The groups contend Usibelli is operating on long-expired permits last approved in 1996 and should be required to start over again with new science and public hearings. Even if renewal was appropriate, the groups stated in their appeal, the mine operation poses environmental threats and the state should deny the renewal...

Zaz Hollander

WILLOW -- Burned-out Willow residents got more sobering news Tuesday: The Sockeye wildfire has destroyed 55 homes, more than twice an early estimate that surfaced last week.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough released the new information as part of a damage assessment linked to getting help for fire victims. At least 10 of the homes lost belong to dog mushers in what’s considered Alaska’s sled dog stronghold.

Permanent Willow residents who lost their homes are looking at a tight timeline. They have just months to rebuild before temperatures plummet below freezing...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- As a wildfire burned around Willow last week, Alaska State Troopers and even a volunteer group of former military members and law enforcement officers made the rounds to stave off crime.

The efforts seem to have paid off, with just a handful of official reports of criminal activity surfacing so far from within the fire area.

Among them was a report Sunday that Alaska State Troopers had cited an unruly 50-year-old man who refused to let fire crews across his property even as flames marched through dry trees and duff nearby. Scott Leitner was blocking access to land in the heart of the fire zone, off Mile 74 of the Parks Highway, troopers said...

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