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KNBA News - Rain brightens outlook for containing the McHugh Creek fire

July 21, 2016

By Joaqlin Estus, KNBA - Anchorage

The rain is just the break needed to change the outlook for the McHugh fire south of Anchorage. Officials are now optimistic they can get the fire under control and protect nearby structures.

The Seward Highway is open but officials say it may be temporarily closed at any time to remove debris. Officials have closed turnouts in the area and ask motorists not to stop to watch or photograph the fire.

At a press briefing Thursday morning, incident commander Tom Kurth said the rain will help douse the fire but it will take time – so it’s a good thing the forecast is calling for five days of precipitation.

The rain also causes some difficulties, though. Aerial support will stop for now due to reduced visibility. Smoke, rain, and the forest canopy also make it hard to find the fire’s perimeter.

Rain also will loosen soil and rocks potentially creating hazardous conditions for the firefighting crews and on the Seward Highway.

There are now more than 300 personnel fighting the fire. Five hotshot crews arrived last night from the Lake Tahoe area in northern California, and are familiarizing themselves with the land and the fire. Kurth said these crews are some of the toughest firefighters in the nation. They have experience working in mountainous terrain. However,  Kurth said they have their work cut out for them as they contend with steep, rocky, slippery slopes, cliffs and ledges, and heavily forested terrain.

Kurth said crews will make good use of technology – looking at Google Earth on their I-pads, texting on their phones, and keeping in touch via radio communications.

They’ll be identifying the perimeter of the fire and putting in a brush line to remove fuels for the fire.

Kurth said the rain will cool and slow fire on the surface, but it will take steady rain for several days to reach into the lower layers of the soil and duff that may be burning.

Kurth praised the support they’ve received from the National Weather Service, saying the forecasts have been accurate almost to the minute, which helps officials target their efforts.

An air quality advisory is in effect. Children, the elderly and those with respiratory issues are advised to avoid outdoor activities and physical extertion.

A burn ban remains in effect. And the FAA has updated and expanded its Temporary Flight Restriction over the area.

The Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team will hold another community meeting Friday night at 7 p.m. at South Anchorage High School.