Reinforcements called in to fight McHugh fire

Alaska Wildland Fire Program Manager Tom Kurth speaks at a press conference on the McHugh fire on Wednesday, July 20. (Photo by Wesley Early - KSKA Anchorage)
Alaska Wildland Fire Program Manager Tom Kurth speaks at a press conference on the McHugh fire on Wednesday, July 20. (Photo by Wesley Early – KSKA Anchorage)

The five-day-old McHugh fire continues to burn in Chugach State Park in southeast Anchorage, and fire officials are calling in additional crews to battle the blaze.

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Size estimates for the fire vary from 350 acres to 600, though Alaska Wildland Fire Program Manager Tom Kurth told reporters this morning that officials should soon have a more accurate map.

Kurth said 150 people are currently battling the fire, including crews on the ground and flying in by helicopter from Girdwood. Reinforcements are arriving today in the form hotshot crews from the lower 48, who will relieve firefighters who have been working for days in the heat and steep terrain.

“We have worn these initial attack resources just about out, and that’s some of the best crews in the country,” he said.

Kurth said at this point, the goal isn’t containment. Instead, he expects crews will spend the day closely monitoring the fire from above and working it from the ground where it’s safe. They’re also keeping an eye on the weather, as rain may bring relief tomorrow.

Officials have not given any evacuation orders, but they’re asking residents in the Rainbow Valley and Potter Creek areas, which are still about a mile to a mile and a half from the fireline, to be ready to go. Fire crews have been clearing dry grasses and laying hoses in the Rainbow Valley area, Kurth said.

Rainbow Valley resident Lindsay Fagrelius said by e-mail that firefighters have marked lots in the area so that properties are easy to spot if conditions get worse. She spent Tuesday night at home, and said much of the smoke had dissipated from the area.

As of midday Wednesday, the Seward Highway remained open to traffic, but pull-offs from McHugh Creek to Rainbow are closed.

A community meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday night at South Anchorage High School, where residents can see the latest fire maps and ask questions. For updates throughout the day, visit akfireinfo.com.