Wind-whipped wildfires north of Fairbanks trigger more evacuations and highway delays

About 165 residences along a 35-mile stretch of the Elliott Highway were under evacuation orders Wednesday after high winds fanned several large wildfires north of Fairbanks.

Residences including both primary homes and recreational cabins, one commercial structure and 500 outbuildings were threatened, said Emery Johnson, a public information officer for the Grapefruit Complex, which includes seven fires.

Roughly 120 people were affected by the evacuation orders and at least 12 were sheltering in their homes Wednesday morning, Johnson said.

The evacuation orders were expanded to Miles 30 to 65 on Tuesday night after winds as high as 40 mph caused the fires to grow, she said. Residents living between Mile 18 and 30 and between 65 and 70 should also be prepared to leave if conditions worsen, according to the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service.

Fire officials are in contact with the American Red Cross of Alaska, but Johnson said there had not been a need for an emergency shelter as of Wednesday morning. One person received a voucher to help pay for a hotel after he evacuated, she said.

Drivers in the area should expect significant delays, Johnson said. Some motorists encountered up to four-hour delays on Tuesday as fire conditions intensified and thick smoke made driving challenging, she said.

“The road is open, but the issue is that if you get to the other side and then we have significant fire activity, you might be stuck on that other side for some time,” Johnson said. “So pack water, food, things like that, because there’s not a whole lot out there.”


The Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality advisory that there could be hazardous levels of smoke this week in Interior Alaska.

The seven lightning-caused fires in the Grapefruit Complex had burned more than 70,000 acres by Wednesday, according to an update. The fires grew significantly last week, prompting the first evacuation order and closing a section of the highway briefly.

Rain in the forecast could help firefighting, but crews are expecting the fires to continue to grow, she said. Crews prioritized protecting the highway, trans-Alaska pipeline and pump station, as well as structures in the area, Johnson said.

Across the state, more than 500,000 acres had burned by Wednesday evening in 321 fires.

A wildfire at Denali National Park prompted a large response as crews worked to protect the park’s entrance this week. The fire grew rapidly on Sunday, prompting the park to close at least through Wednesday heading into the Fourth of July weekend.

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 twilliams@adn.com.