Alaska News

Wildfire closes Denali National Park for third day

Denali National Park was closed to visitors again Wednesday as firefighters worked to slow and contain a wildfire that has prompted emergency closures and evacuations since Sunday.

Authorities said the Riley Fire was about 25% contained, at its southern flank about a mile from the park entry, and just under 390 acres by Tuesday evening.

The park was closed again Wednesday to day-use visitors and vehicles. Park tour and transit bus service was suspended with visitor facilities and trails closed. Park campgrounds are closing at 11 a.m.

“As of yet, there is no anticipated date when these facilities will open or operations will resume,” the Park Service said in a statement Tuesday evening.

The fire’s rapid growth Sunday triggered evacuations from employee housing and campgrounds, canceled passenger train services and shut off power to what’s known locally as Glitter Gulch, a commercial strip in the Nenana Canyon where tourists visit shops, restaurants and lodging.

The fire comes during the park’s busiest time of year, when up to 5,000 people flock to the area daily to sightsee, camp and recreate.

Golden Valley Electric Association planned to start providing temporary power in Nenana Canyon overnight Tuesday into Wednesday before de-energizing a line in the fire zone at 8 a.m. Wednesday “to allow fire crews safe access as they continue their suppression efforts,” according to an update from the Denali Borough. “This pattern will continue until the fire is substantially contained, providing power in the evening and turning it off during the day while crews are on the ground.”


Park rangers were stationed at the entrance on Monday and Tuesday to turn around vehicles, Park Service spokesman Paul Ollig said. Power outages made it challenging to spread the word about the park’s closure, but rangers were also stopping by businesses and hotels in Glitter Gulch to provide updates, he said.

People who had reservations at campgrounds or in the backcountry who were already in the park when the fire began were permitted to stay, officials said.

There were roughly 10 backpackers and 25 campers still in the park on Tuesday, Ollig said. Many of those reservations were scheduled to end Wednesday, and Ollig said a shuttle was operational only to return visitors to the park entrance.

About 150 employees who evacuated from housing near the entrance were staying mainly at the school or churches in Healy, Ollig said. The American Red Cross of Alaska took over shelter operations at the school on Tuesday. About 50 people were expected to remain there overnight on Tuesday, spokeswoman Taylar Sausen said.

The Alaska Railroad for the third day suspended rail service into the park. Passengers were traveling by trail to and from Anchorage and Talkeetna and Healy and Fairbanks, with buses filling in the gaps between Talkeetna, Denali and Healy. Bus passengers would make stops for food and drinks, according to an update Wednesday morning.

Firefighters on Monday protected the southern edge of the fire and were able to contain it despite an evening wind shift, Ipsen said. The fire had largely burned through most of the black spruce in the area and was now reaching hardwood and brush, which slowed the growth, she said.

The fire activity has been smoldering and creeping in steep terrain about a mile north of the park entrance, according to an update late Tuesday. Two interagency hotshot crews from the Lower 48, the Mill Creek and Golden Eagles Hotshots, joined firefighting efforts Tuesday evening, officials said.

The park closure disrupted thousands of travelers who planned to visit over the holiday.

With power out throughout Glitter Gulch, a rush of visitors had been frequenting other businesses along the Parks Highway, said Jessica Rinck, who owns Panorama Pizza Pub about 15 miles south of the park’s entrance. The pizza restaurant still had power.

“We’ve seen a significant uptick in business, for sure,” she said. “There’s nowhere to eat right now, so that’s been crazy.”

The cabins Rinck and her husband own were also booked full as the fire cut power to nearby areas, she said. But on Tuesday, tourists arriving in Alaska were beginning to call to cancel their plans because of the uncertainty about when the park might reopen, she said.

Local businesses in Healy, Carlo Creek, McKinley Village and Cantwell were operating as normal, according to the Denali Chamber of Commerce. Local excursions and tours were still operating as well, for the most part.

“If you need help turning your lemon into lemonade while in the area, please reach out to us for assistance,” chamber officials wrote in an update early Tuesday afternoon.

As of Tuesday, park officials were monitoring the situation and waiting for the southern flank of the fire to be contained enough to be deemed safe to allow visitors back in again, Ollig said.

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Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at