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Wildfire near Tok draws first big firefighter response of season

A wildfire west of Tok first reported Thursday morning had ballooned to more than 550 acres by 5 p.m., according to the Alaska Division of Forestry.

The North Robertson Fire has generated the first significant response from Alaska firefighters for the summer season, said Tim Mowry, public information officer with the Division of Forestry.

The fire is burning 30 miles northwest of Tok, near Mile 1349 of the Alaska Highway, and about 2 miles north of the Robertson River, Mowry wrote on the Alaska Wildfire Information website Thursday. No homes or other structures were immediately threatened.

Around 100 fire crew members — including eight smokejumpers from the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service and five different crews — were on scene or on the way, with aircraft dropping fire retardant and water, Mowry said Thursday afternoon.

By 4 p.m., 16 additional smokejumpers and two more crews were sent out to the fire, Mowry said.

The North Robertson Fire northwest of Tok, on Thursday, June 1, 2017. (Tim Whitesell / Alaska Division of Forestry)

The blaze was first reported at 10:21 a.m., estimated at 2 acres. By noon, it had grown to 15 acres. At 3:15 p.m., the fire was estimated at 350 acres. And at 5 p.m., it was at 550 acres.

"It's all black spruce that's burning," Mowry said.

Tok is an Interior Alaska community with a population of about 1,200. The wind was pushing the fire west of the community, Mowry said.

Officials believe the fire was human-caused, as there was no lightning in the area. Rainy weather that recently washed over the Interior and Southcentral didn't make it to Tok, Mowry said.

There haven't been many fires in the state so far this year.

"It's been a very slow start to the season," Mowry said.

With no other fires to battle, the Division of Forestry and BLM were deploying all their resources to the burn outside Tok, Mowry said.

On Thursday afternoon, firefighters were focusing efforts on the southeast corner of the fire that was closest to any structures. The east flank of the fire, closest to the road, was covered by a retardant line, Mowry said.

A handful of other fires are active in the state, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center's daily update, but none are being actively staffed.