Anchorage

Woman rescued from burning Hillside home before flames ignited wildfire

Firefighters rescued a woman from the deck of a burning Anchorage Hillside home Sunday night as flames quickly spread, catching in dried brush and woods to create a wildfire that drew response from numerous agencies.

Two people were inside the home on Zircon Circle when smoke detectors sounded, said Anchorage Fire Department Assistant Chief Alex Boyd. A woman who went out on the deck to see what was happening became trapped there by the fast-moving fire.

The residents called for help just after 9 p.m. Sunday, and Boyd said 16 units initially responded. Their first priority was to perform the rescue.

That meant they couldn’t immediately focus on the fire, which allowed it to “gain a little ground,” he said.

The woman was brought to a hospital and later released, Boyd said, but the fire quickly spread to the wooded area surrounding the home.

Anchorage has been in a period of dry weather, with high temperatures and little rainfall in recent days. On Sunday, high winds buffeted the Hillside, increasing the risk that a fire could spread rapidly.

Fire danger is unusually high around the municipality for this time of year, state fire officials say.

“We’ve moved from what would be a normal situation in Anchorage to a not normal situation in Anchorage,” said Kale Casey, a fire information officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry. “It’s now only May and it’s very, very, very dry.”

The Zircon Circle house fire created a thermal column that carried embers and burned material upward before dropping it onto the brush and wooded area surrounding the home, Boyd said.

Additional crews from the Anchorage Fire Department were called to the scene, along with resources from Chugiak, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and the Alaska Division of Forestry. A helicopter dropped water onto the area.

Anchorage police asked residents in nearby homes to voluntarily evacuate, Boyd said. People from at least 10 properties left and waited nearby while crews worked to control the blaze.

The fire grew to just under an acre before it was controlled, officials said.

By about 1 a.m. Monday, the fire was 100% contained, meaning it likely would not spread further, said Kale Casey, a fire information officer with the Division of Forestry. Residents who had voluntarily evacuated returned home around that time, Boyd said.

The Gannett Glacier state wildland firefighting crew worked through the night to cut down hazard trees and make fuel breaks around the fire, Casey said. By 3:45 a.m., the fire was fully controlled, he said.

Fire investigators will look at the scene Monday and hope to talk with residents to determine what may have caused the initial fire, Boyd said. The fire may have been related to a barbecue, but Boyd said the investigation is ongoing. It wasn’t believed to have been caused by outdoor burning or have a criminal component.

The house, a total loss, collapsed halfway through the fire response, Boyd said. Property records show that the wooden two-story house was built in 1983.

Conditions in Anchorage have been exceptionally dangerous recently, he said. The city implemented a burn ban on Friday.

“We’re still in that shoulder season where everything’s very dry, it hasn’t greened up yet,” Boyd said. “We’ve got a lot of dry grass, a lot of dry brush and the trees themselves haven’t fully woken up. So there’s still very low moisture density in all of the fuel in the area.”

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning Sunday afternoon and evening, warning that fire danger was exceptionally high through much of Southcentral Alaska, including Anchorage, Palmer and the Knik River valley in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Eight new wildfires were reported in Alaska on Sunday, five of them in Southcentral.

A 5-acre fire Saturday near Sutton drew a large wildland fire response. A burn suspension went into effect that day in Mat-Su.

“Everybody needs to be paying attention to those burn suspensions -- they do apply to you, they do apply to burning things in your yard, to having those campfires, to having anything that would be considered normal,” Casey said.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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