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On both ends of the McHugh Creek fire, residents were preparing for possible evacuations

By the time Laura Tilly returned to her home in Rainbow Valley on Tuesday afternoon, she said all the nearby brush and trees had been removed. Fire crews had taken away anything that could ignite, replacing it with sprinklers hooked up to a neighboring creek.

"The fire crew cleared everything around our house," Tilly said. "We feel really fortunate that they did that."

Tilly lives in one of about 17 homes in Rainbow Valley, a sparse subdivision off Seward Highway, on the southern side of the McHugh Creek wildfire. She was in Kenai and didn't get home until around 2 p.m. Tuesday, after waiting in traffic and after the fire had already exploded in size.

She said she and her family had not yet been evacuated by Tuesday night, but they were prepared to leave. They had already loaded family pictures, passports and important documents into their car. They placed a suitcase in just about every room.

"We're thinking we'll get a 30-minute warning," Tilly said. And then, she, her husband and their two sons would start packing quickly.

Tilly said she felt fortunate that their home, where they've lived since 1981, was so close to the Seward Highway, and not up into the valley like others in the subdivision. The highway provided an easy exit if they had to leave. For now, they waited.

"Basically no one knows anything. It all depends on the way the wind blows," she said.

On the other side of the fire, Becky Hultberg, a Potter Valley resident, had also started to pack. She drove to the Kenai Peninsula with her family on Friday. Her son had a baseball tournament, and the family decided to stay longer to go fishing.

But when she heard about the warnings to be ready to evacuate, Hultberg booked a flight back to Anchorage. Her home is two miles up Potter Valley Road.

By late Tuesday afternoon, Hultberg, the chief executive of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, was at her house gathering documents. She said she wanted her family to be ready.

"It doesn't sound ominous at this point," Hultberg said. "We're just making sure we have overnight bags packed and preparing in the event we do have to evacuate."

Down the road from her house, people were putting boxes in cars, Hultberg said.

Hultberg said half her family is still on the Kenai Peninsula. Her husband is waiting until the road clears, she said.

Her biggest concern Tuesday, however, was traffic on the roads around her house. Routes leading out of the neighborhood were backed up, and Hultberg said she wasn't sure how easily she'd be able to evacuate.

"Unless it's an emergency, stay off the roads," Hultberg said.

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