Burn ban, trail closures ordered as McHugh fire spreads

The Anchorage Fire Department declared a ban on open burning amid warm, dry weather and trail closures in Chugach State Park Tuesday as more than 100 firefighters worked to stop the growing wildfire near McHugh Creek.

The burn ban, ordered by Anchorage Fire Chief Dennis LeBlanc, was announced late Tuesday morning. A burn suspension was also ordered in the Mat-Su region, mainly for large open fires authorized by permit.

"The only devices allowed are covered gas, electric, charcoal or pellet-fed barbecues and enclosed fish smokers," Anchorage fire officials wrote. The ban includes all other open fires, including those in "chimineas," which are partially enclosed outdoor fireplaces, and other portable devices.

Chugach park staff closed several trails and scenic areas near the fire, releasing a statement and a map indicating the affected area.

"Closures specifically include the Turnagain Arm Trail between Potter and Rainbow, the McHugh Creek Trail, and the Rainbow Peak Trail as well as the McHugh Creek wayside, Beluga Point pullout and Rainbow trailhead," park officials wrote.

Tom Harrison, state parks superintendent for the Chugach-Southwest region, said Tuesday afternoon the closures will remain in effect until they're no longer necessary.

According to Harrison, the closures are important from a safety perspective, but might also help dissuade drivers from contributing to delays like the two-hour holdups along the Seward Highway Tuesday.


"It's important to get the word out," Harrison said. "The way the road is, they don't want to head this way."

Chugach National Forest officials also warned of "extremely high fire danger" Tuesday and encouraged visitors to be wary of sources of ignition.

Although the week's forecast calls for a chance of rain Thursday, the Anchorage burn ban was issued as hot, windy conditions continued around Southcentral.

"The cumulative effects of successive days of near record temperatures and very little precipitation have significantly elevated our fire danger throughout the Municipality," fire department officials wrote.

AFD Fire Marshal Cleo Hill said Tuesday the situation warranted immediate action.

"Right now, with everything that's going on at McHugh Creek and the projected forecasts for today and tomorrow, we thought it best to put the burn ban into effect," Hill said.

Seventeen Anchorage firefighters, operating two tenders, two engines and two brush rigs, as well as a medic unit and a command rig, have been sent to Rainbow Valley to assess the area for possible evacuations.

"Should the fire continue to advance in Rainbow Valley we would be assigned for the structure protection," Hill said. "If something happened here (in Anchorage), it would stretch us really, really thin."

Palmer-based Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Norm McDonald said the burn ban in the Mat-Su region was put into effect Thursday afternoon and will remain until further notice.

The Mat-Su suspension primarily bans larger fires authorized under burn permits.

"Camping fires, cooking fires, warming fires are not part of the suspension," McDonald said. "They must be enclosed, that means a gravel pad, a ring, and some separation from vegetation. We do also require that people with camping fires and cooking fires have water on hand."

McDonald said most of the division's resources fighting the McHugh Creek fire have come from the Mat-Su. State officials have also requested five Hotshot crews — 100 additional firefighters — from Outside fire agencies.

AFD's Hill said firefighters are "concerned" about the possibility of any significant change in the wind that would shift the McHugh fire toward Anchorage. She advised residents to listen to radio stations for any major updates from firefighters, as well as signing up online for direct Nixle messages from the fire department.

"Should we have anything going on in Anchorage, that's the first indication they have that they should be prepared," Hill said.

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.