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6/17/15 - Hundreds of firefighters battle the Sockeye Fire near Willow, Card St. Fire in Sterling

Sockeye Fire – the nation’s top firefighting priority – has stopped its wild growth

By Phillip Manning, KTNA; Ann Hillman, APRN; Shaylon Cochran, KDLL; and Joaqlin Estus, KNBA

The Sockeye Fire that’s burned 12 square miles is zero percent contained, but it did not grow on Tuesday. It didn’t make any aggressive runs, and it’s no longer “crowning” – or leaping from one treetop to another. Low winds kept the size steady. Firefighters are reporting “really good progress” on containing the northern portion and hope to have containment within a day or so.

Alaska Incident Management Team Information Officer Sarah Saarloos said last night’s storms did not bring much rain, did bring lightning strikes to the area north of the Sockeye Fire.  Firefighters aggressively attacked those new fires to prevent their growth.

An estimated 50 to 100 structures have been damaged or destroyed – including homes, sheds and outhouses. Some 200 people have left their homes under a voluntary evacuation order that remains in effect because of high levels of heat in the interior of the fire.

The Parks Highway is open to traffic, though vehicles must be led through the area with a pilot car. There is not as  much smoke in that area as earlier.

The Sockeye fire is the nation’s top firefighting priority – meaning all available resources are being turned to contain the fire. Five hotshot crews, of 20 men each, arrived yesterday. About 300 firefighters along with air tankers and helicopters dropping water and fire retardant are working the Sockeye Fire.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized funding to cover 75% of the state’s costs fighting the Sockeye fire.

Thousands of animals have been evacuated to other areas in the Mat-Su valley. Several mushers are camped with more than 300 dogs in a gravel lot at the local feed store, Underdog Feeds in Wasilla.

Today’s forecast calls for scattered dry thunderstorms, low humidity and gusty winds in the Susitna Valley, from Willow to Talkeetna.

For more information, visit the Mat-Su Borough and Sockeye Fire Facebook pages.


Two new fires crop up on Kenai Peninsula, as firefighters battle Card St. fire near Sterling

By Jenny Neyman, KDLL

Fire crews were kept busy on the central Kenai Peninsula Tuesday night, keeping an eye on the Card Street Fire to prevent it from spreading to homes in the Kenai Keys areas, and attacking two new fires in the Copper Landing area near milepost 51 of the Sterling Highway.

Lightning was pegged as the culprit for the new fires. The Alaska Division and Forestry and the Forest Service initially focused on the fire near Juneau Lake along Resurrection Pass Trail, north of the Sterling Highway.

The other is burning on the south side of the highway on a steep mountainside in the Russian Lakes area. That fire was about 20 acres when crews reached the area, but Andy Alexandrou, with the Division of Forestry, said Tuesday the Russian Lake Fire is “gobbling” — moving fast up steep terrain near power lines, the Sterling Highway, and some residences.

No lightning strikes were recording in Sterling on Tuesday, but dry conditions and variable winds continue to hinder firefighting efforts. The Card Street Fire, which began Monday afternoon, has grown to just over 2,000 acres, or 3 square miles. The fire has damaged or destroyed at least 10 structures in eastern Sterling, three of them houses.

Hot spots appeared across the Kenai River in last year’s Funny River Fire burn area Tuesday, but crews have been able to contain them. Air tankers continue to dump retardant as a barrier between the fire’s edge and homes, with helicopters dumping water in more targeted operations.

Residents are keeping a close eye on the fire, as well. Many have evacuated, with the Sterling Community Center serving as a shelter and hub for relief efforts. Not everyone is heeding the evacuation request, however, which is also true of the Sockeye fire near Willow.

Kurt and Tammy Strausbaugh stayed in their house Monday night and watched the flames come to within a half mile from their back deck.

“I’ve got a good 50-foot buffer around at least most of my home,” said Kurt, “but our home is made of wood and our deck is really kindling dry, just like everything else is right now.”

The Strausbaughs live about one-third of a mile down Card Street off the Sterling Highway. They had everything packed up and moved out Monday, and were ready to move themselves as need be.

“We just hunkered down,” said Kurt. “We’re so close to the highway, if the flames would have come onto our property, we already had the vehicles pointed down the street. We would be able to get out, put it that way.”

Alexandrou said that a hot shot crew was scheduled to arrive on the scene Tuesday night, and a Type 2 management team is expected to take over operations Wednesday morning. More air support is on the way, as well, including two Black Hawk helicopters from the National Guard and a Canadian CL-215 scoop aircraft.

Subdivisions have been evacuated from Card Street east to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge boundary mile 76 of the Sterling Highway, south to the Kenai River. Evacuation centers are located at the Sterling Community Center and the Soldotna Sports Center.

The West entrance of Skilak Lake Road at the Sterling Hwy will be closed to lower Skilak campground until further notice.


Land managers let Chisana River 2 fire burn

A fire in the eastern Interior of the state poses no threat to life or property and is being left to burn. The Chisana River 2 fire  has reached 8,600 acres. It’s in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. Fire managers expect the Chisana River 2 fire to remain active over the week, and will monitor the growth and spread of the fire.


Alaska’s film tax credit program is dead

Gov. Bill Walker signed a bill ending the subsidies on Monday. The program was created in 2008, and it’s paid out about $50 million in credits to television shows, movies, and documentaries film in the state.


Alaskan economy grew slightly in 2014

Employment in Alaska grew by half a percent in 2014, continuing a 2013 trend. A Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development report says the state saw above-average growth in the oil and gas, construction, retail trade, and leisure and hospitality industries. Governor jobs fell by 760, with losses in federal and state agencies, including school districts. 

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