AFD: Air attack key in keeping homes safe in MLK Jr. wildfire
Three months have passed and the investigation continues into the cause of the Martin Luther King Jr. wildfire which broke out July 2 off Elmore and Dowling roads in South Anchorage.
The Anchorage Fire Department says it was a human-caused fire but the exact cause is "undetermined" at this point.
While AFD says the cause is still not clear, it has provided additional details into how that fire was fought, which helped keep homes from burning in the immediate area as well as Stuckagain Heights and the Anchorage Hillside.
AFD credits a coordinated response and the hard work of about 100 Anchorage firefighters, and some from other agencies, for quickly gaining control of the fire. AFD also highlights the air attack as a big factor in keeping the fire from spreading to homes.
AFD radio communications the day of the fire indicate flames were close to jumping over Elmore Road and potentially into Stuckagain Heights, where dozens of homes are located.
"The fire seems to be advancing towards Elmore, towards the east. It's probably another five more minutes and it's going to bump the highway," said AFD personnel over the radio.
Assistant Fire Chief Alex Boyd says the fire could have continued up to Hillside had it jumped Elmore Road. He says a large fire burned that way in the 1960s.
"It's one of the largest fires that we've had in Anchorage's history that burned though. And that burn scar was essentially where this one was lined up to shoot if it had kept going on its path," said Boyd.
The department broke down exactly how air support and ground crews managed to keep the fire from advancing. Assistant Chief Boyd says firefighters quickly called for air support. The Division of Forestry sent several resources to the fire including a water-dropping helicopter, lead plane and three air tankers that were all waiting for a fire assignment in Palmer.
Phil Blydenburgh, Acting Fire Management Officer with the Division of Forestry, says the water-dropping helicopter in Palmer was notified to head to the MLK Jr. Fire at 4:46 p.m.
He says it took off just one minute later at 4:47 p.m. He says the first of three air tankers that also launched from Palmer, arrived on scene about 30 minutes after being dispatched, with the two other air tankers just minutes behind the first.
Assistant Chief Boyd says the first retardant drop was close to homes off Sundance Circle, the location of the back of the fire near Lake Otis. He says ground crews immediately worked to secure that retardant line to keep the fire from spreading back to homes.
The second retardant drop was closer to some Municipality of Anchorage buildings, including the bus barn, off Elmore. Some homes are also located in that area. An air tanker pilot put down the third and final retardant line between the head of the fire and Elmore. Assistant Chief Boyd says that slowed the fire, while the water dumping helicopter was able to put water in that area. The National Guard also sent two water-dropping black hawk helicopters to the fire.
In the end, the fire did not spread to homes off Sundance Circle.
"It was a God thing that that air support came," said Sundance Circle resident Diana Farless.
It did not jump Elmore and spread to Stuckagain Heights.
"The fire department reacted beautifully to this," said Stuckagain Heights resident Don Crafts.
The fire also did not burn any Municipality of Anchorage buildings at Elmore and MLK.
"We were very lucky. And again it really came down to those air resources and the ability to put such an intense attack on that fire. Often times in fires that are more remote now and outside the city you won't get that many air resources on there for a day. And we had them in a half an hour," said Boyd.
Boyd says it was fortunate the fire did not start one day later. There was concern about what might have happened had the air resources not been immediately available because of other wildfires. Blydenburgh says the air tankers and other resources used in the MLK Jr. Fire were sent to the Montana Creek fire, south of Talkeetna, the next day.
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