Weather Calms Wildfires In Alaska Interior

July 9, 2004
Thirty-thousand acres in a day sounds like a lot, but apparently it's not when you're talking about the still-growing 334,700-acre Boundary fire in Alaska's Interior.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Thirty-thousand acres in a day sounds like a lot, but apparently it's not when you're talking about the still-growing 334,700-acre Boundary fire in Alaska's Interior.

The fire - which forced a weeklong evacuation of hundreds of residents from their homes northeast of Fairbanks - grew by 30,000 acres on Thursday. Residents began returning to their homes a couple of days ago, prompting one fire official to issue a new kind of warning Friday.

``There are fire-weakened trees, there are still real slippery hillsides where the ash is, there are some root holes, there are still firefighters working in the area,'' said Rick Barton, a fire information officer for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Barton said cooler temperatures in the 60s and some rain were keeping the Boundary fire along the Steese Highway mostly subdued. The fire had 521 personnel assigned to it and was nearly 30 percent contained.

Rain fell Thursday on the 200,000-acre Wolf Creek fire, also northeast of Fairbanks and burning beyond the end of the Chena Hot Springs Road.

``They got up to a quarter-inch,'' Barton said. ``That really gives firefighters a chance to get closer to the fire itself and put line in, to do a direct attack... We are making substantial progress on that fire.''

The Wolf Creek fire had 263 personnel assigned to it Friday. It did not grow overnight and was expected to be downgraded Monday. Since it began, it has burned seven structures, more than any of the 73 fires burning in Alaska.

So far this year, 372 wildfires have burned 2.2 million acres in Alaska.

The Chena Hot Springs Resort, situated at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road about 50 miles northeast of Fairbanks, had $100,000 in business booked over the Fourth of July weekend. The resort made less than $500, said manager Bernie Karl.

``It is our biggest weekend of the summer. It devastated us,'' he said.

Karl said he was grateful for a fire break that he already had in place around the resort. While the fire got onto resort property, it didn't damage the buildings.

``We had a beautiful fire line,'' he said. ``It crept down to the fire line and stopped, and it worked... We have guests coming back.''

The Boundary fire made short runs Thursday, with some torching and crowning along the Steese Highway. But westerly winds, expected to continue Friday, worked to firefighters' advantage. The fire backed into the wind instead of being pushed by it, Barton said.

``That's a good thing,'' he said. ``That means it is going very slowly. It is not kicking spot fires out and crowning trees.''

While the fire danger waned in the Interior, fire managers were looking warily toward western and southcentral Alaska, where conditions were drier and sunnier.

On Tuesday, a five-mile portion of the Kenai River on the Kenai Peninsula was closed to boaters because of a wildfire. The river was closed so a helicopter could fill buckets of water to dump on the fire.

Barton said fire managers are taking a lesson from the Evansville fire earlier in the week near the Koyukuk River village of Bettles, 175 miles north of Fairbanks.

Tuesday's wildland fire grew from one acre to 500 acres in just an hour. By thee end of the day, it was 1,500 acres. On Friday, it measured 2,000 acres.

Barton said within an hour of that fire being reported, 34 smokejumpers were at the scene getting assistance from three air tankers. Firefighters quickly built a fire line between the town and the fire.

``The fact that it grew so fast just highlighted to us that there are a lot of the parts of the state that are really dry and volatile,'' Barton said.

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