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6/18/15 Officials have damage assessments from Sockeye fire ready to share

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Nikiski Fire Dept.

      By Phillip Manning, KTNA and Liz Ruskin, APRN

Some 500 firefighters working around the clock are making good progress on the Sockeye fire near Willow, which is holding steady at just over 7-thousand-500 acres.

The Mat-Su Borough says it has finished assessing damages from the Sockeye Fire and plans to meet individually with evacuated residents this afternoon [Thursday] to tell them if their homes are still standing. The sessions will be between 1 and 7 p.m. at the Houston Middle School. The Borough says it will have mental health professionals on site. Those who cannot attend can call 861-8500 for information or to set an alternate time.

About 175 people turned out for a community meeting Wednesday evening in Houston. Sockeye Incident Commander Tom Kurth told the crowd Alaska fires can look as if they’re out, when they’re actually smoldering underground, and the Sockeye fire is still precarious. Crews have burned potential fuel around the perimeter of the Sockeye fire, and are moving in to locate and put out hot spots. 

Kurth said officials are evaluating whether to reduce the size of the evacuation area, which extends from mile 63 to mile 78.5 of the Parks Highway. Since its start early Sunday afternoon, the Sockeye fire is estimated to have destroyed as many as 100 structures, at least 25 of which are residences. The Sockeye fire is considered the highest priority wildfire in the country.

Officials believe human activity caused the Sockeye fire but have not released details.

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Montana Creek fires contained

Two fires off Montana Creek Road considered contained, but are not yet completely out. And a fire in the Canyon Creek area of the Talkeetna Mountains is being monitored.  Lightning ignited those three fires. 

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Firefighters work to protect cabins threatened by Healy Lake fire

The Healy Lake Fire southwest of Delta Junction is now estimated at 2,500 acres and is growing.
The fire was started by lightning in the area on Tuesday night and is burning on the east side of the Tanana River between Healy Lake and Moose Lake. Retardant was dropped around cabins and other structures and sixteen smokejumpers are setting up sprinklers around cabins. A hotshot crew is scheduled to arrive today to add to the effort.

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Card Street fire near Sterling, on the Kenai Peninsula, drives 300 people from their homes

By Shaylon Cochran, KDLL

More firefighters are finding their way to the Kenai Peninsula where three wild land fires are now burning; the Card Street Fire near Sterling and the Stetson and Juneau Lake Fires near Cooper Landing.

The good news on the Card Street Fire is that it’s finally beginning to move away from residential areas on the banks of the Kenai River. Easterly winds are pushing the fire into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Skilak Lake. Division of Forestry spokesperson Terry Anderson says favorable winds, a lot of water and good preparation by property owners kept the damage limited to one structure Tuesday night.

“The fire made a major run to the west,” said Anderson. “It jumped Kenai Keys and came into the subdivision with lots of sparks and embers and trees torching, and it was a battle for a good solid three hours or so. It was supported by air tankers dropping loads of retardants right next to houses trying to support the firefighters. A lot of success.”

The Card Street Fire is now at 2,500 acres. At least 300 people have been evacuated. Campgrounds near Skilak Lake have also been cleared out.

Anderson says the Type-2 management team will arrive Monday with extra administrative and ground support.

“There’s a lot of tired firefighters out there right now, so to be supplemented by a management team or more fire crews is what we all need right now,” said Anderson. “We have about 125 new firefighters hit the ground today. More have been ordered and I expect to see more coming.”

About 20 miles east down the Sterling Highway; two fires were sparked by lightning near Cooper Landing. Mona Spargo is the public information officer with Chugach National Forest.

“Stetson Creek was originally south of the Sterling Highway between Russian River and Cooper Creek,” said Spargo. “It was originally this morning 750-1,000 acres estimated. Since our briefing this afternoon, it has been taken down to 250-300 acres.”

The Juneau Lake fire was also a result of lightning strikes. It’s east of Juneau Lake and north of Cooper Landing, just off the Resurrection Pass trail. The cabins on the trail have been evacuated.

“So that one has an incident command team and a fuels crew on it,” said Spargo. “And there have been about 20 people from the district providing support and monitoring, letting people know what’s going on.”

The forecast for the Peninsula calls for more hot, dry, windy weather, and officials expect these fires to continue through the week.

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A fire ban and prohibition on the sale of fireworks are now in effect on state, municipal, and private property inside the Mat-Su Borough, Municipality of Anchorage, and Kenai Peninsula.  The fire ban applies to all wood and charcoal fires.  Gas grills, backpacking or camp stoves using fuel or compressed canisters that can be regulated and shut off are still permitted.

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