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East Anchorage wildfire prompts brief evacuations amid aggressive firefighting response

A brush fire burns in Anchorage Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

This story has been updated. Click here for the latest updates.

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A wildfire spread quickly Tuesday afternoon in East Anchorage, prompting evacuations from nearby homes and firefighting responses from multiple agencies.

No one was injured and no structures had been damaged as of 10 p.m. Tuesday, according to Anchorage Fire Chief Jodie Hettrick, and evacuation orders were canceled within an hour. The fire led to an aggressive response by firefighters, with helicopters and at least one airplane dropping water and retardant while crews worked on the ground.

Police said the fire — which started in the Campbell Park area just south of Tudor Road near Elmore Road around 4:30 p.m. — spread rapidly west, toward East 46th Avenue and Piper Street. The area is a heavily wooded.

The 25-acre fire was 30% contained as of 10 p.m. Tuesday, according to Stephanie Bishop with the Alaska Division of Forestry. The fire was incorrectly reported earlier to be 80% contained; rather, crews “were able to get retardant around 80% of the fire."

Smoke could be seen throughout the city.

“It will take us a while to mop up,” said Hettrick, who expected to have crews in the area for at least another two days.

Hettrick said the cause of the fire was unknown, and the fire department was unable to confirm whether anyone had been living in the woods where it started.

Officials, however, remained positive about overnight firefighting efforts. “We are very optimistic that we can keep this in containment this evening,” Bishop said, thanks to contributions from emergency responders from Alaska and beyond.

The fire served as a reminder of hazardous fire conditions that persist throughout the city.

Hettrick warned of extreme fire danger, saying the fire department had responded to three fires at different locations Tuesday afternoon. Under a citywide burn ban put in place last week, the only outdoor fires allowed in the municipality are barbecue grills and pellet grills.

Eastbound traffic was snarled Tuesday evening in several of the city’s main arterial roads in Midtown Anchorage, but all roads had reopened by 9 p.m. Tuesday. Police said Campbell Creek trailheads at Folker Street, Grumman Street, MLK and Lake Otis Parkway were closed, and urged trail users to avoid Campbell Creek Trail east of Lake Otis Parkway and Far North Bicentennial Park.

The fire, which was burning in black spruce, was down to about 3 acres of active fire, Hettrick said around 8 p.m. Firefighters reported 60-foot flames, Beth Ipsen with the Alaska Fire Service said.

The closest the fire got to homes was a half-mile, Hettrick said. Police urged residents not to enter the fire zone because it was not safe.

Intense video showing early stages of wildfire in East Anchorage

Here's another video of the wildfire that broke out in East Anchorage on Tuesday afternoon taken by John Hartvigson from the Alaska Native Medical Center. The clip shows the intensity of the fire in its early stages before retardant drops from air tankers and water drops from helicopters were used to slow its spread.

Posted by Alaska DNR- Division of Forestry (DOF) on Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Hettrick said the fire was first reported by an Anchorage Police Department officer, and the officer’s early reporting “gave us the opportunity to get here quickly and extinguish this fire.”

Evacuations had been in place for Manoog’s Isle mobile home park, Campbell Creek Science Center and surrounding areas, and the area around East 50th Avenue and Folker Street. Those who evacuated and went to Wendler Middle School have returned home, municipal manager Bill Falsey said. The school is no longer being used as an evacuation center, but people were urged to call 907-343-4701 if they were unable to get home, Falsey said.

[WATCH ABOVE: BP engineer Don Brink made a video of the fire as it broke out Tuesday afternoon from the ninth floor of the BP building.]

Earlier in the evening at Manoog’s Isle mobile home court, when evacuations were still underway, some people were packing while others were standing by their cars, watching as planes dropped fire retardant and a huge plume of smoke rose nearby.

Pao Thao, 26, was evacuating Manoog’s Isle with his wife and three children. He said he first took a nap after work, not worried about the fire, and then his family woke him up, screaming, “We have to go!”

Seanna Jensen, 29, has lived in Manoog’s Isle for the last decade. “It was so terrifying at first,” she said. “All of our main stuff was packed.”

But Jensen didn’t leave.

“I’m not going to leave my home until it reaches the trailer court line,” she said.

Michael Malone, 59, has lived in Manoog for a couple years and has been in Alaska his whole life.

He said he’d evacuate, but he doesn’t see a threat. “Got a lot of swamp before it gets to us."

“It’s Anchorage," Malone said while watching a helicopter deliver buckets of water to the fire. "They’re going to throw everything they got at it.”

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