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6/19/15 Officials plan to allow residents back into the Sockeye fire area near Willow

Stefan Hinman, Public Information Officer
Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Evacuation area reduced, and opened to homeowners who lost homes

  By Liz Ruskin, APRN

Managers of the Sockeye Fire near Willow plan to begin letting residents back into the evacuation area today. At 10 this morning, the evacuation zone will be reduced to the fire perimeter line, controlled by nine security checkpoints. Homeowners who have lost homes will be let into the fire zone starting at 11. The evacuation is set to end entirely on Saturday but security checkpoints will remain in place through the weekend.

On the Parks Highway, traffic will be controlled between mileposts 71 and 78 until Monday. Authorities are also reducing the flight restrictions this morning, starting at 8, to allow airplanes into Long Lake, Willow Lake and the Willow Airport. At least 26 homes have been destroyed in the 7,000-acre blaze. 

Almost 600 firefighters are still working on the Sockeye fire, using aircraft, boats, heavy equipment and hand tools to put out hot spots.


Card Street Fire moves away from homes and into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

By Shaylon Cochran, KDLL

On the Kenai Peninsula, near Sterling, a very small portion of the Card Street Fire is under control, and the evacuation notice for a couple of neighborhoods has been lifted.  But it has grown from 9,000 to 12,000 acres, or 19 square miles. As KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran reports, the fires continues to move east, into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and away from residential areas.

Terry Anderson, one of the public information officers for the Division of Forestry has been giving regular updates over lunch at the Sterling Community Center and Thursday there was finally some good news. In some of the neighborhoods that were evacuated, crews are now working on the smaller spot fires, and people can finally get back to their homes, at least for now.

“There’s a whole division of guys that work on that all day long and they grid it," said Anderson. "They walk back and forth and back and forth and yeah, you can miss it, but it’s rare because that’s what they’re doing on a daily basis.” 

In all, more than 250 firefighters are working the Card Street Fire. It’s the number one priority fire in the country, at least at the moment. Crews caught a break Wednesday night as the wind pushed the now 9,000 acre fire into the wilderness of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. But Refuge Fire Management Officer Kristi Bulock says this is not a situation where they want to simply let the fire burn itself out.

“This is an unwanted fire. This fire has the potential, if it crosses the Sterling Highway with the right conditions, it could actually come back in to the north side of Sterling and we absolutely do not want that to happen,” said Bulock. “The goal is to stop the fire. There’s just too much risk to communities.”

Over in Cooper Landing, residents were also breathing a little easier, but still keeping a sharp eye the 300 acre Juneau Lake Fire and the closer, 100 acre Stetson Creek Fire.

Dan Michels is the General Manager at the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing. Besides worrying about his own house, he’s got nearly 200 guests who probably didn’t see this in any travel brochures.

Michels said, “All the guests coming in, it’s like ‘keep your tooth brush handy and your medication and what do you do?” 

He says they have their own plan to get people out safely, but those fires are also being kept more or less in check. They’re both the result of lightning strikes earlier in the week.

“And then all of a sudden, crrrrack. And that was that. That started it. They knew which one it was,” said Michels.

A Type-2 management team is on site for those fires and will take over operations tomorrow. At least 40 additional fire fighters are also expected. The Stetson Creek fire has been relying mostly on air support, as its position on a hillside makes fighting from the ground much more difficult. There’s no cost estimate on those fires, but the Card Street Fire is now running at more than $160,000 a day, totaling just over a million dollars.

The Card Street Fire continues to get new support, as well, including from Alaska villages. Hotshot crews from Grayling, Hooper Bay and Chevak arrived Thursday.


Interior fires growing

Several wildfires are burning in the interior, including a growing blaze east of Delta Junction. Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says the Healy Lake fire made a major push west toward Delta beginning late Wednesday night and at least doubled in size from 2,000 to 4,000 acres.


New areas added to burn closure, fireworks ban,

Due to high fire danger, a burn closure for southcentral Alaska has been extended to the Tanana Valley north of the Alaska Range and to the Copper River Valley. That means all open fires, including campfires and charcoal fires, are prohibited. Gas grills or stoves using fuel that can be regulated and shut off are still permitted for use. Fireworks are banned in Anchorage, the Mat-Su, and Kenai Peninsula, and in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.