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Wildfires continue to scorch Southcentral, Interior Alaska

By KTVA CBS 11 News 7:11 PM May 21, 2014
KENAI PENINSULA –

Update, 7 p.m.

The Funny River wildfire has increased in size to nearly 44,000 acres — still with zero percent containment, according to authorities. The fire is currently spreading in the direction of refuge land, away from homes. Additional crews from around the state and the Lower 48, along with two Canadair CL-215 firefighting aircraft, are en route to assist in the firefighting efforts.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Yukon Crossing Visitor Contact Station, located at Mile 56 on the Dalton Highway, is closed due to the Dalton River Crossing fire. The Mile 60 campground is also off limits.

Information on Dalton Highway conditions and closures can be found online. Other BLM facilities along the highway, including the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot, are scheduled to open Friday, officials said in a statement released Wednesday evening.

Original story

Two wildfires still rage in Southcentral Alaska, charring thousands of acres and concerning residents and fire officials. A third wildfire also sprung up in the state’s Interior Tuesday evening that is within two miles of the Dalton Highway.

DALTON RIVER CROSSING FIRE

The fire was reported Tuesday evening, north of the Yukon River and three miles east of the Dalton Highway. Sixteen smokejumpers and a helicopter are working the fire, said the state’s Division of Forestry. As of Wednesday afternoon, it’s estimated to be about 350 acres, said forestry information officer Sam Harrel.

As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, the fire is moving west toward the highway and is one to two miles away. The fire, which is burning spruce and tundra, could reach the highway Wednesday evening, officials said. There’s also worry it could reach the trans-Alaska pipeline.

SOUTHCENTRAL FIRES

The Funny River fire had grown to 20,000-plus acres by Wednesday morning, the Division of Forestry said. Ash could be seen falling from the sky over the Soldotna Municipal Airport. No one has been forced to evacuate yet, but the fire is only a few miles away from homes along the Sterling Highway.

Shanna McCartney, who lives off Funny River Road, said she’ll start packing if the fire gets any closer to her home.

“I was confident until I saw the flames by the road [Tuesday] night,” she said.

McCartney said she’s seen her fair share of wildfires, but still can’t help but worry.

More firefighters are on their way to tackle the blaze and officials said they’ve ordered more hotshots and air resources.

However, conditions are making it hard to get off the ground. Because of the amount of smoke, fire officials said they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to attack the Funny River fire from the air Wednesday.

For now, the goal is to secure the northern flank of the blaze, try to put retardant down and secure the west side of the fire from Kasilof.

Meanwhile, the wildfire near Tyonek, which burned three structures overnight, now stretches about 1,500 acres and has changed course. Some Tyonek residents have returned home after a Monday evacuation as the fire now heads north toward Beluga. A Chugach Electric power plant is nearby, and there’s some concern the fire could reach it, the Division of Forestry said.

At the moment, the power plant — which supplies about one-third of Anchorage’s power — is not threatened, Chugach Electric officials said.

Three crews and three helicopters are assigned to the fire, Harrel said, and two retardant air tankers are also working to curb the advance of flames.

Both Southcentral fires sparked Monday. The Funny River fire is believed to be human-caused and the Tyonek fire is believed to have started after a tree hit a power line.

 –This is a developing story.

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