Rain could help firefighters battling Alaska wildfire

Rain could help firefighters battling Alaska wildfire

Rain could help firefighters battling Alaska wildfire


by Associated Press


Posted on May 25, 2014 at 12:48 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 27 at 12:08 PM

ANCHORAGE, Alaska  -- Officials say possible rain forecast for this week in Alaska could help crews gain control over a massive wildfire that's forced hundreds of people to flee to shelters.

Officials say the nearly 248-square-mile blaze in the state's Kenai Peninsula is 30 percent contained.

Alaska Interagency Management Team spokeswoman Michelle Weston says 1,000 structures were in the area under evacuation.

On Tuesday, that evacuation order was lifted and it's now an evacuation advisory.

The Funny River Fire is named after a road near its northern edge where all residents are being evacuated. She says no injuries were reported, and it's unclear if any buildings were damaged.

She says Alaska State Troopers went going door to door this weekend, evacuating an area that's mostly second homes and home to many retirees.

The size of the blaze is not unusual for Alaska but the state does not usually see such large fires this early in the season, Weston said.

For size comparison, as of Sunday morning, the Funny River Fire was larger than Seattle (143 square miles) but smaller than Anchorage (1,961 square miles).

The Alaska Department Natural Resources warned residents of Anchorage, the state's largest city, to expect to see considerable smoke from this and another wildfire.

About 450 firefighters are assigned to the Funny River Fire, which is the most active of several large wildfires burning in Alaska. Firefighters have been flown in from Oregon, Montana and Canada to help Alaskan crews.

They were working Sunday to build and strengthen containment lines on the west and north perimeters of the blaze, fire spokesman Bernie Pineda said. They hope to complete the west line within the next few days, he said.

"We had a great day fighting the fire yesterday," Pineda said, adding that the lines crews had built earlier held well despite strong winds.

Fire officials said they were expecting some rain by Tuesday and predicted the warnings for possible evacuation of the threatened homes could be lifted sometime Monday.

Gov. Sean Parnell flew over the fire midday Sunday. He praised the multiagency effort -- including state, local and federal officials.

"Lots of pieces are working well together right now," Parnell said during a news conference. "Thanks so much to the entire team for keeping Alaskans safe.”

Wildfires in Alaska's remote areas are not unusual during the summer months, with an average of a million acres burned each fire season, Weston said.

The state is experiencing unusually dry conditions because of unseasonably warm spring temperatures. High wind is also a challenge for crews.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 as the Kenai National Moose Range and was aimed at moose protection. Wildlife viewing, fishing, camping and hiking attract visitors from around the world.