Dunleavy flies over Mat-Su wildfire damage
Governor Mike Dunleavy took to the air Saturday to look at the damage from the McKinley and Deshka Landing Fires. What he saw surprised him.
"It went right down the highway where residences are, where businesses are on each side of the highway," the governor said as he discussed his thoughts on the McKinley Fire. "If you look a few miles beyond that, the fire didn't touch certain areas where there are no residences or dwellings."
Alaska Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Torrence Saxe, Matanuska-Susitna Borough Mayor Vern Halter joined the governor on the one-hour flight. Halter has seen the devastation from the ground, but the view from the air surprised him too.
"The number of buildings, the number of cars, vehicles — the total destruction up there is truly shocking," Halter said.
The Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team said Friday the McKinley Fire has destroyed 51 primary homes, three commercial buildings and 84 secondary structures. Dead trees remain a major problem for firefighters as they are potential fuel sources.
The National Guard is also helping with the fires, as its main job is traffic control. That job proved a bit dangerous Saturday morning on the Kenai Peninsula where the Swan Lake Fire is burning.
Saxe reminds drivers to use caution when driving through fire areas.
"There's a car that drove right through what we had for the road checks," Saxe said. "We have two whiplashes, we also have a neck injury as well and a leg fracture."
Meanwhile, Saxe said first estimates of the financial damage by the fires could be known next week.
Gov. Dunleavy issued a disaster declaration for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Kenai Peninsula because of the fires. One of the things it could do is provide housing assistance for those who lost their homes. Those eligible could receive up to three months of rent, while homeowners would get up to six months of financial assistance.
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