Chena Hot Springs owner confident in resort’s safety as wildfire burns nearby

A wildfire burning near Chena Hot Springs Resort, northeast of Fairbanks, crossed a ridgeline 2 miles south of the resort Friday, a fire official said.

About 100 firefighters moved back to set up protective measures around structures at the resort, along with recreational cabins and a few homes at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road.

Residents and guests at the resort have been cautioned to have their bags ready in case they need to evacuate.

“It’s far away, so we’re fine,” said Javier Javier Villasenor-Gaona, a vice president at the resort.

The resort was at the lowest alert level because of the fire, he said.

Resort owner Bernie Karl said they didn’t evacuate in 2004 when they were surrounded by a wildfire, and he doesn’t plan to do it now.

After the fire 17 years ago, he put all metal roofs on the buildings, put fire lanes completely around the resort and added fire prevention equipment, including two fire trucks. They are spraying water around the resort to increase the humidity.

“This place is safer to defend than Fairbanks,” he said, noting there are two rivers on either side of them and a runway in the middle.

He has 60 guests at the resort as of Friday afternoon and expected to be full with 210 guests by nightfall.

“We tell people to come out and enjoy the smoke and take a soak,” Karl said.

“The hot springs (resort) is a pretty darn defensible space,” Alaska Division of Forestry spokesperson Tim Mowry said. “We feel pretty good about … doing structure protection at the resort and on cabins along the roads.”

The fire had been held south of the ridgeline on Thursday, but south winds came up Friday morning, pushing the fire toward the ridgeline. Warm temperatures in the mid-80s helped increase fire activity and, along with winds and heavy smoke, contributed to unsafe and challenging conditions for firefighters.

Helicopters were dropping water on the top of the ridge.

The fire has been roughly estimated to be 8,900 acres, but the Alaska Division of Forestry said in a statement that getting an accurate map of the fire has been difficult because of the smoke and fire activity. They said the fire is likely somewhere between 5,000-10,000 acres.

Hose lines and sprinklers have been set up at the resort, homes and other structures in case fire threatens them. Sprinklers were also set up at two yurts owned by the resort, about two miles south of the hot springs.

The fire was started by lightning. It was first reported June 18, burning about 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of the resort.

The resort is about 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks.