Warm, dry and windy weather in the Fairbanks area over the weekend stoked the Stuart Creek 2 Wildfire burning east of Eielson Air Force Base.
Richard Hadley is a public information officer with an incident management team from California assigned to the fire. He says the fire grew to more than 64,000 acres Sunday, but firefighters have achieved 5 percent containment.
“We have a lot more line that’s been built up the western flank of the fire heading toward the Chena River and we hope to tie that into the river later today,” Hadley said. “On the southern edge, the fire is backing down hill slowly towards a road, so once it reaches the road, we’ll be able to achieve some containment in that area as well.”
Nearly 700 personnel are battling the blaze. Hadley says that includes six hotshot crews, 16 hand crews on the ground and help from various agencies.
“The Department of Defense has three Chinook helicopters they’ve made available to us and today we expect to have two Blackhawk helicopters from the national guard, so that kind of cooperation is really helping out,” Hadley said.
One-hundred-twenty adults and 57 children left the Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley communities Sunday following an evacuation notice, which is still in place.
Hadley says crews continue to secure more than 600 homes threatened by the blaze.
“We’ve had crews in there for days taking measures to reduce fuels around homes,” Hadley said. “In some locations we installed water tanks, hose line and sprinkler systems.”
Temperatures cooled overnight, and some rain did fall in the area. The wind could pick up this afternoon, but there is rain in the forecast.
Christopher Cox is a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.
“We do have a system coming up from the southeast which is going to increase our chances for rain showers in the area,” Christopher Cox, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks, said. “We should expect a wind shift to more of the southwest which should help to take a lot of the heavy smoke out of the immediate Fairbanks area.”
Cox says the fire is large enough to make its own weather.
“When you get that much smoke into the atmosphere, it will actually make its own cumulus clouds,” Cox said. “So far, we haven’t had any lightning strikes and we don’t expect it in the future either.”
On Saturday night, officials held a community meeting to address local concerns regarding the fire.
Fort Wainwright Commander Colonel Ron Johnson took the floor. He says despite persistent red flag warnings, the army moved forward with artillery training that ignited the fire earlier this month. The army was able to mitigate the blaze until last week.
“So it was monitored, smoked up, they hit it again and then when the fire conditions changed it flared up and we got what we got,” Johnson said.
Many Mushers in the community of Two Rivers have packed up their sled dogs and headed for dogs yards outside the community as the wildfire bears down on them.
An evacuation notice issued Sunday for the small community outside Fairbanks is still in effect Monday.
On Sunday afternoon, Two Rivers resident Melinda Shore unloaded 13 sled dogs at a dog yard high in the hills north of Fairbanks. Surprisingly, she was smiling.
“I’ve got so much insurance, so I’m in good shape there,” Shore said. “I mean I don’t want to lose my house, but on the other hand, I don’t have a bath tub and I’ve been talking about a bathroom remodel for a long time so this may be… whatever.”
This is the second time in a week Shore has evacuated her home 21 miles out Chena Hot Springs Road. She was running errands in town when she got word officials had issued an evacuation order for her neighborhood.
“So I immediately turned around and drove back and it was just so dark ahead of us,” Shore said. “It wasn’t even like night; it was alike a bruise in the sky.”
Shore says ash rained from the sky as she loaded her truck and took off. She stopped at a local gas station for a hot dog and coffee on her way out. She says other residents weren’t having as easy a time.
“Some were really upset,” Shore said. “I’m in a really fortunate position, but a lot of people don’t even know where they are going.”
“I talked to a lot of people back in Two Rivers who said they didn’t know where they’d be able to go.”
Many residents are staying with friends. People with livestock and other animals can set up camp at the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds. Ten people took shelter Sunday night at the Red Cross Evacuation Center inside Weller Elementary School.
120 adults and 57 children left the Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley communities Sunday following an evacuation notice, but that noticed was lifted this afternoon. The communities are still under an evacuation watch.