Alaska News

Sockeye fire containment increases to 53 percent

Fire officials said the Sockeye fire near Willow reached 53 percent containment Saturday, aided by lower temperatures and higher humidity.

Crews took advantage of cloud cover in a push to build containment lines, said Chris Barth, fire information officer. The fire held steady at 7,264 acres, with more than 770 people on the fire lines, Barth said.

Willow fire evacuees got the official go-ahead to return home Friday. Firefighters and Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials lifted the area's remaining evacuation order Saturday. The wildfire in the Susitna Valley has destroyed 26 homes, burned across 132 properties and displaced 800 people in the town of about 2,100.

As firefighters worked to bring the Sockeye fire under control, officials reported Saturday that more than 80 new fires had ignited in Alaska over two days, a mix of lightning- and human-caused blazes. In Alaska's eastern Interior, one lightning-sparked fire had reached 30,000 acres.

On Saturday alone, there were 6,500 recorded lightning strikes in the state, said Tim Mowry, spokesman for the Alaska Division of Forestry.

"It's been a big lightning day," Mowry said. There were 4,500 strikes on Friday, he said.

Most of the new fires sparked north of the Alaska Range, Mowry said, though the blazes were widespread throughout the state.

Of 45 new fires on Saturday, about a quarter were human-caused, Mowry said. He said that number was disappointing.

"I know people can't control everything, but there's supposed to be burn closures pretty much all over the state right now," Mowry said. "We have enough fires to deal with."

He said resources are spread thin across the state.

"The big challenge for the managers right now is prioritizing how to respond to these new fires," Mowry said.

As of Saturday morning, active fires spanned 195 square miles.

On the Kenai Peninsula, the Card Street fire that has spread to more than 7,600 acres and destroyed 11 homes was not contained Saturday afternoon. But officials said they were making progress and fire crews were using "water scooper" planes to douse the flames.

"It's settling down fairly well," said information officer Patricia Bean, noting overcast weather and lower temperatures.

Evacuations have been lifted for most of the Card Street fire area, except for the Kenai Keys area south of the Kenai River. By Saturday afternoon, Homer Electric Association was restoring power to the Kenai Keys.

One new fire, the Spicer Creek fire, was burning near the Yukon River about 12 miles north of the village of Tanana, Mowry said. He said the fire had spread to at least 800 acres but was not heading toward populated areas.

In eastern Alaska, officials said Saturday the lightning-sparked Chisana River 2 fire has spread to nearly 29,000 acres. The fire is burning in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge.

Fire crews were working to protect four cabins that could be threatened, said fire information officer Jim Schwarber. While suppression efforts are not underway because the fire is in a limited-protection area, Schwarber said fire managers are forming contingency plans in case the fire keeps spreading south.

One goal is to keep the fire from reaching the Sheep Creek drainage, about 5 miles upstream from the King City Cabin, Schwarber said.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.