20 July 2016

Firefighters up against steep terrain, heavy wind in wildfire near South Anchorage

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) A large wildfire is burning uncomfortably close to two residential areas at the edge of Alaska's largest city, and emergency officials in a Tuesday evening news conference say heavy winds and steep terrain are complicating firefighting efforts.

What sparked the human-caused blaze overnight Saturday near McHugh Creek is unknown, but the fire is now estimated at 350 acres, slightly less than a previous Division of Forestry estimate that was slightly exaggerated due to thick smoke. Approximately 1.1 mile from the fire's southwestern boundary is the 17-home Rainbow Subdivision, and 1.3 miles from the northern boundary is Potter Valley, the beginning of the densely populated South Anchorage hillside.

"Zero containment," Tom Kurth, leading an inter-agency team battling the blaze, said of the fire's status to media late Tuesday. "If we get winds blowing up through that area again, we're liable to have a new perimeter by morning."

By Wednesday morning, a couple hundred firefighters are expected to be on scene, including five hotshot crews. Also contributing to the growing logistical challenge are dozens of specialists from the state Department of Transportation, Division of Forestry, Anchorage Fire Department, Anchorage Police Department, Alaska State Troopers, and Alaska National Guard.

Chugach State Park trails are closed, and all day long, traffic screeched to a halt on Seward Highway, the lone road connecting Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula communities. Traffic began to flow in both directions at 9 p.m., but traffic delays should be expected indefinitely. Kurth says there is fire activity at the edge of the road in the area around milepost 111, and drivers should beware of rocky debris spilling from the craggy hillsides.

Good news may be on the horizon later this week, with heavy rain forecast as very likely throughout the day Thursday.

But for now, bad news is the focus: heavy westerly winds are expected throughout the evening, potentially pushing the fire's boundary increasingly close to Rainbow Subdivision, a small community that sits along a dirt road and is composed of 17 homes, as well as tough terrain.

"This is very steep, rugged country, about 45 percent slopes up there," Kurth said, adding that fires like this typically grow uphill, and this one is acting as expected. "The first area that would be threatened would be in the Rainbow area ... so that is where the structure protection is taking place."


Fiona said...

Our prayers to the fire fighters...my brother is still in Ft. MacMurray, Alberta where that fire is lingering, it has burned 1.4 million acres! The terrain there is not steep but full of muskeg and bog...my Brother operated the big back hoes and does pipeline but they are the first conscripts in a big fire and were all pulled off pipeline work to fight fire. Do your firefighters have air drop capability?

Rev. Paul said...

I pray your brother remains safe. Yes, there are air tankers & helicopters with buckets, and the fire is 100 feet from the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. Plenty of ocean water, if only they can get enough of it on the flames.

Old NFO said...

Prayers they stay safe. Backfires are your friend in that kind of terrain.

Rev. Paul said...

Thanks, NFO. And you bet - they'll do it if there's any way they can.