Warmer weather recharges wildfires in Alaska’s Interior; crews battle fires in Calif., Colo.
Associated Press Writer
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A wildfire near a village of about 60 residents almost tripled in size Monday as warm, dry weather gave new life to it and dozens of other fires in Alaska’s Interior.
Conditions were drying out, heating up and taking a turn for the worse following several days of rain, officials said.
“The humidity has dropped. The temperature is up, the wind has picked up. Our respite is over,” said Gil Knight, of the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.
The 17,000-acre fire was burning about a mile from the village of Bettles. Fire officials said the blaze was a top priority Monday – one of the 71 fires already burning statewide.
It was not known what caused the fire, which was 10 percent contained by Monday.
“Our first priority is to nail any new fires that should develop,” Knight said.
When the fire started last week, crews built a firebreak to protect Bettles, located about 185 miles northwest of Fairbanks. The village, a tourist draw in the late summer, has about 60 year-round residents.
About 200 firefighters have set up between 20 and 30 tents around the village. Tourists for the most part were staying away, said Tyler Klaes, whose family owns the Bettles Lodge.
Firefighters conducted a burnout operation Saturday night, but the backburns jumped the main lines, and planes had to dump water on advancing flames.
“We watched it all happen,” Klaes said. “If the wind was blowing the other way we all would have been toast.”
Crews also were monitoring wildfires that have burned 338,600 acres north of Fairbanks. Fires have scorched more than 2.3 million acres in Alaska so far.
Meanwhile, in California, firefighters battled a wildfire near Palm Springs. The fire at the edge of the San Bernardino National Forest scorched nearly 1,500 acres, but had destroyed no homes and it was 40 percent contained.
Also Monday, in southeastern Arizona, about 10 residents were allowed to tour charred areas of Mount Graham – escorted by U.S. Forest Service officials and sheriff’s deputies. The group was to report their findings to the other homeowners.
Fire managers did not know when all of the families forced to flee Turkey Flat’s 74 cabins and Columbine’s 15 cabins would be allowed to return for good. The possibility of falling trees, flash floods in fire-damaged areas and traffic interfering with firefighting efforts was among the concerns.
Crews were able to protect the communities and the $200 million Mount Graham International Observatory from a pair of wildfires that eventually merged. The fires were 65 percent contained and had burned 29,200 acres by Sunday night.
In Colorado, fire officials said a stubborn 300-acre mountainside blaze in eastern Delta County was expected to be fully contained by Wednesday.