Residents near Chena Hot Springs urged to be ready to evacuate as fire grows to an estimated 9,000 acres

Update, 4:30 p.m. Friday: Firefighters on Friday were taking steps to protect homes and structures near Chena Hot Springs northeast of Fairbanks after winds pushed the Munson Creek Fire north, the Division of Forestry said in an update.

Driven by wind, the blaze crossed a ridgeline about 2 miles south of Chena Hot Springs, forcing firefighters to fall back, the forestry division said.

Firefighters set up sprinklers and hose lines around private homes and cabins at the end of the road along with Chena Hot Springs Resort structures, according to the Division of Forestry. Sprinklers were also set up around two resort yurts that are located about 2 miles south of the hot springs.

Helicopters have been dropping water on the fire along the top of the ridge, said fire officials. “Unfavorable winds” and visibility-obscuring smoke are posing a challenge to the approximately 100 firefighters working on the Munson Creek Fire, the forestry division said.

The Division of Forestry clarified that while the fire is estimated at 8,900 acres, “smoke and fire activity have made getting an accurate perimeter map a challenge. The fire is likely somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 acres.”

Residents who live east of Mile 48 on Chena Hot Springs Road and resort guests are still under notice to be prepared to evacuate immediately if necessary. That evacuation notice will be reassessed on a daily basis.

Original story:

Fire officials urged residents at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road northeast of Fairbanks to be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice as the Munson Creek Fire swelled to an estimated 8,900 acres Thursday.

The evacuation notice, which will be re-evaluated on a daily basis, applies to people living east of Mile 48 of Chena Hot Springs Road as well as Chena Hot Springs Resort guests, the Alaska Division of Forestry said in an update Thursday evening. Residents “should have their bags and important items packed and be ready to leave their homes immediately if necessary.”

After several days of higher humidity and “minimal fire spread,” hot, dry weather accelerated the growth of the Munson Creek Fire, which was caused by lightning on June 18. The blaze grew from about 500 acres Wednesday morning to nearly 9,000 acres by Thursday evening, the Division of Forestry said.

“Fire managers had speculated the fire was much larger than 500 acres but smoky conditions prevented aircraft and ground personnel from getting an accurate perimeter until Thursday,” the forestry division said.

Fire officials noted that ash was falling at the hot springs, and the smoke column could be seen from Fairbanks, North Pole, Delta Junction and Eielson Air Force Base.

As of 6 p.m. Thursday, about 80 firefighters were working to keep the Munson Creek Fire from advancing past a ridge about 2 miles south of the hot springs, according to fire officials. Three helicopters were dropping water on the fire at the top of the ridge, and air tankers were laying down a retardant line along a trail to protect two Chena Hot Springs yurts and a remote weather station, the Division of Forestry said.

Firefighters are also burning vegetation on the ridge “to rob it of fuel when it hits the burn line,” the forestry division said.

The fire as of 6 p.m. was about a half-mile south of the yurts as well as a shelter on the trail from Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs, according to the forestry division. That trail and the Angel Rocks Trail are both closed.

A temporary flight restriction is in place over the Munson Creek Fire area.