McHugh Fire Updates: Fire now at 778 acres, 30 percent contained
Last updated at 11:20 a.m. on Sunday, July 24
McHugh Fire incident commander Tom Kurth said the fire was roughly 778 acres in size as of Sunday morning and 30 percent contained.
Kurth said the new acreage comes from more accurate mapping of the fire, adding that no new growth or movement of the fire has occurred for “at least 72 hours.” With the new shape of the fire, however, come new issues for the 310 firefighters still fighting it.
“What it does is increase the workload, because instead of these nice smooth lines out there, which everybody is thinking we have, it’s more like this,” Kurth said, pointing out finger-like extensions of the fire on a map. “That’s where you have to go, in and out of these fingers, and so it makes for more work. On the map, I think it’s gone from five-and-a-half miles to nine-and-a-half miles of perimeter. So much more edge to cover.”
Kurth said fire officials were expecting rain showers throughout the day until around 6 p.m., with continued favorable weather after that.
“Another positive report as far as the effort goes here,” he said.
Fire officials will continue to monitor the fire even after it’s “out,” Kurth said, noting that hot spots inside the perimeter can smolder and flare up again later during a dry spell.
When asked if fire officials knew what the cause of the fire was, Kurth said two investigators had given a rough location for the origin of the fire, believed to be along the trail behind the McHugh Creek Recreation Area.
“Likely it’s person-caused, so it’s an opportunity for education out there for what carelessness can certainly lead to,” he explained. “We count on early detection, but there’s all sorts of factors that can go in there too. If you have multiple fire days or heavy winds or something like that, even early detection isn’t going to help us. So making sure that people are careful with any sort of ignition point, and that’ll surprise you sometimes as to what that is.”
Kurth said Alaska fire officials have investigated some “weird” causes of fires, including chainsaws, ATV exhausts and someone lighting a bee’s nest on fire.
He also reminded drivers to use caution and drive slowly through the area, noting that larger numbers of people were expected to come north as they head home from fishing on the Kenai. The speed limit near Mile 111, where the fire is located, was still 35 mph Sunday.
Kurth said besides the fire, firefighters were dealing with wildlife, including bees. One firefighter was evacuated to a hospital for treatment after being stung by a bee, he said.
Last updated at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 23
The McHugh Creek Fire was 15 percent contained as of Saturday morning, incident commander Tom Kurth said at a Saturday morning community meeting. Roughly 330 firefighting personnel were battling the blaze, which was holding at 815 acres.
Roughly half an inch of rain fell on the fire Friday, and more “favorable” weather was forecasted for the next day or two, according to Kurth. That includes rain, high humidity and cooler temperatures. He said later in the week, the chances of rain were expected to drop, but that fire officials were not expecting to see the conditions that promoted growth of the fire — high temperatures, low humidity and winds.
Kurth explained that while the fire is contained to a small degree, parts of it could be considered confined, or unable to progress due to an existing barrier, like a cliff face.
“Our prognosis is going to be very positive, and the perimeter that you see there has very little chance of moving,” Kurth said. “We’ll begin to see what we can do about actual containment there, but I think the residents of Alaska, of Anchorage here, can rest easy about the further spread of this fire.”
Kurth also touched on another danger to the public. He said the primary concern for the area around the fire was traffic along the Seward Highway. The speed limit has been lowered to 35 mph near the fire, which is behind Milepost 111, according to Kurth. Turnouts in the area are still closed to discourage drivers from stopping.
Anchorage Fire Department spokesman John See also spoke, highlighting the Firewise program. He said 2016 was an “extraordinary” year for the program, compared to previous years. The program began in 2001 and has since provided roughly 1,600 fire mitigation inspections for homes, schools and public spaces in Anchorage.
“We’ve been inundated with requests to do these home inspections,” See said. “We’re running behind, we’re going to be playing catch up.”
See said AFD Chief Denis LeBlanc approved additional staffing for the program to cover the 50 to 75 requests that are still pending for this summer. He said the Potter Valley and Rainbow Valley neighborhoods were being prioritized due to the proximity of the McHugh Creek Fire.
The program is funded through federal grants. To request a home inspection, visit the Firewise website.
The cause of the McHugh Creek Fire is still under investigation.
The air quality advisory for Anchorage and Eagle River has been lifted, but the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) remains in place over the fire.
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