Alaska News

Brush fire quickly burns 2 acres in Anchorage park

A large brush fire burned in the woods of Anchorage's Campbell Creek Greenbelt Saturday afternoon, but it was put out within a few hours and no injuries or damage to buildings were reported.

The fire burned about 2 acres near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Elmore Road, off the north fork of Campbell Creek. Dozens of spectators stopped along the greenbelt trail to shoot video of flames licking the trees. The fire was at least 50 yards off the main trail, with most of it hidden by thick stands of spruce.

The fire was initially spreading quickly, said Anchorage Fire Department spokesperson John See. Helicopters circled above the columns of smoke to spot the boundaries of the fire, in preparation for the arrival of aircraft that helped douse the flames.

See said the fire was fully contained by 7 p.m. It was earlier thought to have burned about 7 acres, but after examining the site with GPS, fire officials determined it had burned 2 acres.

Residents in a house on Madigan Circle, a few hundred yards west of the fire, were told by firefighters they needed to be prepared to leave, See said.

"It wasn't in immediate danger, but if the fire had continued to spread the residence would have been endangered," See said.

Conditions have been unusually dry and hot in Anchorage, with a forecast this weekend calling for wind to kick up, presenting concerns for the fire department, See said.

"We've been very nervous about this weekend," he said.

Anchorage Police Department Sgt. Shaun Henry, who was directing pedestrians along the trail to stay away from hoses, said he saw the column of smoke from the woods as he was driving at about 4:45 p.m. and called for help.

He said the fire was initially about 1 acre large.

"We had to get out in a hurry," he said. "It was not something you could put out with a fire extinguisher."

The area is often occupied by homeless camps. Henry said he saw no people near the area of the fire and wasn't sure what had started it.

A drone flying over the fire came close to delaying the response.

Fire department safety officer Steve Brown said he was at the site of the fire before a firefighting helicopter had arrived when a drone flew above the fire, probably 50 feet over the top of the trees.

"We had a helicopter that was about a mile out and on its way in," Brown said. "We called it in over the radio and the drone turned around and cleared the airspace."

"Had it stayed there we couldn't have brought in the helicopter to assess the fire," he said. "It would have delayed putting it out and would have endangered firefighters and possibly homeowners and business owners nearby."

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or alex@adn.com.

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