Firefighters on Wednesday continued working to smother a now “smoldering” wildfire that sent flames 60 feet high Tuesday afternoon in the Campbell Park area of East Anchorage.
By Tuesday evening, firefighters had managed to create a perimeter around 30 percent of the fire to keep it from spreading, said Stephanie Bishop, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Division of Forestry. By Wednesday afternoon, the total burned area was more than 25 acres, or about 19 football fields.
That containment held steady through Wednesday afternoon with no change to the fire’s size, Bishop said.
More than 60 firefighters were working the fire, including at least one crew from the Lower 48.
The wildfire spread quickly Tuesday in a heavily forested area, prompting brief evacuations from nearby homes and aggressive firefighting responses from multiple agencies. At least 37 people were evacuated to a temporary shelter at Wendler Middle School, according to municipal manager Bill Falsey.
Bishop said firefighters were focusing Wednesday on cutting vegetation around the perimeter of the fire to keep it from spreading. She didn’t have a timeline for when the fire would be fully contained.
The cause of the fire and the exact location where it started aren’t yet known, Bishop said. The general area of the fire is a mix of black spruce, hardwood trees and marsh.
Police know of homeless encampments in the area of Campbell Park, but it’s unclear whether the fire originated in one, said Capt. Sean Case of the Anchorage Police Department.
Josh Durand, Anchorage Parks superintendent, said the parks department recently cleaned up several homeless camps along the Campbell Creek greenbelt close to the fire area.
No injuries or structural damage were reported.
The municipality activated its Emergency Operations Center 15 minutes after the fire was initially reported, and deactivated it early Wednesday afternoon.
Nearby trails have been closed, including trailheads at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Elmore Road, Lake Otis Parkway, Folker Street and Grumman Street. Police also asked people to avoid the Campbell Creek Trail east of Lake Otis and Far North Bicentennial Park. Officers will be patrolling the perimeter of the fire on bike.
Fire danger in Anchorage was hovering between “very high” and “extreme” in the days leading up to the Campbell Park fire, triggering a burn ban on all outdoor fires except barbecue grills and pellet grills.
Two Independence Day fireworks shows scheduled in Anchorage and Eagle River were also canceled.
Fire officials urged residents not to set off fireworks and to create what they called a “defensible space,” around their homes free of flammable brush. The Anchorage Police Department will be adding extra officers to its usual patrols the night of the Fourth specifically to handle fireworks enforcement.
Capt. Sean Case cautioned residents to use discretion if they see or hear fireworks and call if it seems like there might be a safety threat.
“If you’re going to call, try to do a threat assessment yourself,” Case said.
Several wildfires burning in Alaska, including the 77,000-acre Swan Lake fire near Sterling, have taxed firefighting resources.
“Be careful not to do anything that could cause any type of wildfire in this area,” Bishop said. “We are stretched thin on our resources and we would like to keep what we currently have working.”