The village of Aniak in Southwest Alaska began evacuating some of its residents Thursday as smoke from a nearby wildfire blanketed the community.
Elders, children and those with health problems left on flights to Bethel, about 92 air miles from the village on the south bank of the Kuskokwim River, said Megan Leary, city manager.
"We're trying to get all of those people out first before the smoke gets really bad," she said.
The North Aniak fire had burned about 2,500 acres on the other side of the river.
As people left Aniak, others arrived there from Chuathbaluk, about 11 miles upriver. The Mission Creek fire was burning about two miles from Chuathbaluk, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.
"The fire is getting close to their houses," Leary said. "It's really scary stuff."
McGrath Mayor Dustin Parker said Thursday afternoon that he knew of some people who were en route to Aniak by boat from McGrath, a 12-hour trip down the Kuskokwim River, to bring family members back to McGrath.
The McGrath airport was closed due to poor visibility, Parker said.
Flames also threatened the Crow Village area on the Kuskokwim River, said Mark Leary, director of development and operations for the Native Village of Napaimute.
Mark Leary said Napaimute has the area's only fire pump and hose. Late Wednesday, his wife called him in from mowing the lawn and said, "You need to call Crow Village right now," Leary recalled.
One family lives in Crow Village, he said, and a group of boys had already begun knocking down trees as flames came within a few hundred feet of their home, he said. Leary said he got in his boat and left for Crow Village with the pump and hose.
"Those boys are really the ones that saved Crow Village. I just brought the pump down," he said.
Twenty-one new Alaska wildfires logged Wednesday brought the total to nearly 300 fires burning almost 945 square miles, according to The Associated Press, with much of the activity in Alaska's dry and hot Interior.
Some communities are so smoky that flights have been grounded even for fire crews.
A tribal nonprofit organization, the Tanana Chiefs Conference, flew out more than 60 elders, children and vulnerable adults on Tuesday from another Athabascan village, Tanana, which is about 4 miles from the edge of a fire nearly 59 square miles in size. The organization also flew about 10 residents from the village of Hughes as a precaution in case it gets worse there from a fire about 10 miles away.
Smoky conditions have prevented more evacuations from Tanana.
Thick smoke in Fairbanks on Wednesday prevented two 20-member fire crews from flying to Tanana, said state fire information spokesman Tim Mowry. The crews were still stranded through early Thursday afternoon, when managers were waiting for the smoke to clear. Mowry said firefighters went to one fire by boat and others by vehicles.
Alaska Dispatch News reporter Laurel Andrews and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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