Alaska firefighters hope to have the upper hand on the state’s first major wildfire of the season by Saturday evening, revising an initial description of the Delta Junction blaze’s cause but saying it is still believed to have been started by people.

Tim Mowry, with the Alaska Division of Forestry, said the 250-acre North Eielson Fire off the Tanana Loop extension began Friday evening amid a series of smaller fires -- three in Fairbanks, four in Tok and one in Delta Junction -- sparked when trees touched power lines during 50-mph wind gusts in the region.

“We had a lot of wind in Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Tok, so there were trees that hit power lines and caused little grass fires that sparks jumped off,” Mowry said, adding that most were handled by local firefighters. “None of those got any bigger than a little small patch of grass.”

On closer inspection of the North Eielson scene, however, fire crews began to consider other possibilities. With no lightning in the area, however, firefighters still believe the blaze was human-caused.

“Originally we had thought it was a tree on a powerline, but when we went out there they saw there was no powerlines,” Mowry said. “It could be an old burn pile that came back to life; there were some old cars in the area, so something could be related to a battery or something like that -- you’re not far from residences.”

Smoke rises from a wildfire along Tanana Loop Extension in Delta Junction on Friday, May 11, 2018. (Credit: Tim Whiteselll/Alaska Division of Forestry)

At least two loads of retardant were dropped near the fire Friday night by an air tanker from Palmer, according to subsequent updates from the Alaska Wildland Fire Information blog. By Saturday, about 80 people were still working to form a perimeter around the fire after it burned a 3-mile-long stretch of farmland, jumping across a trio of fields before being stopped in a stand of mixed hardwood.

“They’ve got it pretty much boxed in and they’re just searching that perimeter for hot spots,” Mowry said. “They’re hoping to have it pretty much contained by end of shift, which is 10 o’clock tonight.”

The North Eielson Fire burns through a stand of black spruce trees on Friday, May 11, 2018 near Delta Junction. (Credit: La’ona DeWilde/Alaska Division of Forestry)

Troopers and local firefighters had initially advised residents near the fire to prepare for evacuations, but none were ultimately called for.

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