Sockeye Fire Slows, For Now

There is a bit of heartening news from the Sockeye fire. Erratic weather, expected to bring strong winds to the area late Tuesday, did not actually materialize after a thunderstorm passed overhead, and fire crews have arrived from outside Alaska to begin an offensive against the blaze.

The parking lot at Houston High School is now a staging area for forestry personnel, as fire crews begin a full assault on the Sockeye wildfire.

Vanloads of equipment are piled high, cases of water bottles stacked everywhere, and shovels and backpacks are heaped up, ready for the five  20-person Hot Shot crews that arrived Tuesday. Tom Kurth, the incident commander, hosted a press conference in the school parking lot Tuesday afternoon,  saying the fire had gained one thousand acres between Monday and Tuesday, and he was watching the weather, concerned that conditions that could expand the blaze

“We’re starting to get familiar with exactly how to approach it, and you’ll see progress made as we continue through the week here. Again, we do have what our fire weather forecaster is saying no break in the activity here as far as she can see. Today, we have dry thunderstorms predicted for the Talkeetna Mountains, due East of here. That could bring dry lightening, new starts, it could also bring strong downdrafts, winds, behavior that could excite the fire out there. ”

The thunderstorm passed over the North end of the fire, around 7 pm,  sprinkling the area a bit, but doing little to douse the rest of the blaze. Celeste Prescott, an Alaska Incident Management Team  fire information officer, said the winds did not come up late Tuesday either, and that is good news.

“The crews were able to get a great amount of work done, with favorable weather through most of the day. When the thunderstorm, the cell, did move through the area, they did receive some winds on the fire, but no major significant events happened from that.”

Prescott said  that the fire is not expected to grow much by Wednesday.  She said that there will be a total of 16 crews working on the blaze when another planeload of firefighters arrives Wednesday from Boise, Idaho.

Prescott said that some of the incoming firefighters will be sent to work on the Kenai wildfire. One hot shot crew was loaned to Mat Su to fight lightening caused fires near Montana Creek on Tuesday, she said. Those blazes are under control.

The Sockeye fire is the number one priority in the state, and the nation, she said, although so many fire resources are available now because there is little fire activity in the Lower 48.

Although the slight inroads on the fire are welcome news, Prescott could not say how long it will be before the fire is contained.

“Well, here’s our biggest issue. This is a fuel driven fire, also, with wind and weather, I mean, we need the help of Mother Nature to help us out.”

And mother nature is notoriously fickle.

“We’re gonna work on securing the edges as much as possible. But with as large a fire as this and as hot as it’s burnt and as deep as it’s burnt, we’re going to need some rain and some cooler temperatures. We’re going to be in this for a duration of time. ”

And for homeowners waiting in shelters to find out if it is safe to go home again, the news is not good. Tom Kurth said on Tuesday that a lot of places that were evacuated are in the interior of the fire. He says forestry wants to keep those areas clear for fire crews to do their work

“So we’re trying to keep that area clear so we can move our firefighting resources in and out of those places safely. We know it’s a major inconvenience for people, but we do have the cooperation of law enforcement who have sealed those areas off. So right now, we have not allowed people in there. That decision will be made in cooperation with the Mat Su Borough and with law enforcement, and it is likely, I’m going to still put forty eight hours on that.”

A community meeting is set for 7 pm in Houston Middle School Wednesday.