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Rural Alaska

Residents evacuate as wildfire approaches village in Southwest Alaska

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: August 19, 2019
  • Published August 19, 2019

Dozens of residents from a Southwest Alaska village safely evacuated to other communities Monday as a wildfire threatened to barrel into the village, officials said.

The fire near the community of Levelock, population 80, was reported around 1 a.m. Monday morning, said Beth Ipsen, with the Alaska Interagency Fire Information office.

A team of eight smokejumpers were sent in after daybreak Monday to help prevent the fire from reaching the village, she said. Some villagers had also stayed to fight the fire, using bulldozers to carve a fire break around part of the village.

Ipsen said Monday she did not yet know the size of the fire or its exact location. She understood it was moving past the village’s western side.

“It doesn’t sound like it reached any structures,” she said. “We’re waiting to hear from the smokejumpers on the ground."

Levelock is located in the Bristol Bay region, about 60 miles east of the hub city of Dillingham.

Villagers on Sunday night took to the water in skiffs for safety, as the fire moved toward the village, said Stan Swetzof, fire chief for the Bristol Bay Borough, which helped provide shelter.

Many of the residents were able to return to the village later and fly out by airplane to the nearby village of King Salmon, he said. Some went to other villages in the area.

About three dozen residents had arrived in King Salmon early Monday, said Becky Savo, a planner for the borough helping manage a shelter in that village.

“The people here had a lot of anxiety,” she said. “They were worried, some elders had health problems.”

Swetzof said as far as he knew no one was injured by the fire.

Ipsen said there are 64 active fires in the Southwest Alaska region, and 237 active fires statewide.