Anchorage wildfire forces rapid response to contain

An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter circles after dropping a bucket of water on a wildfire in East Anchorage on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Photo by Nat Herz / Alaska Public Media)

Updated: 4:30 p.m. Wednesday July 3

A fast-moving wildland fire erupted in east Anchorage Tuesday afternoon. What officials are now calling the MLK Fire — so named because it was first spotted near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue — was first reported at 4:28 pm Tuesday.

By about 8 p.m Tuesday, City Manager Bill Falsey said crews were confident they had the fire largely under control.

“We feel like we are in a good place and this is not going to get away from us,” Falsey said at an emergency command center set up close to the fire perimeter. Overhead, three helicopters circled, dropping water and retardant on the flames.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire is burning around 25 acres. The state’s Division of Forestry has taken command of operations, and says the blaze is about 30 percent contained. 66 crew members are working the area, cutting swaths of vegetation from around the fire’s perimeter. The division expects the fire to be fully contained by Wednesday.

With no rain or substantial change in the weather forecast, fire officials are wary of the hot, dry conditions in Anchorage that are elevating the fire risk. Firework displays on the 4th of July have been canceled. And the Anchorage Police Department says that it will increase its enforcement of the city’s fireworks ban.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Division of Forestry says the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Municipal trails in the area remain closed.

Updated: 9:30 p.m.

A fast-moving wildland fire erupted in east Anchorage Tuesday afternoon. What officials are calling the Campbell Park Fire was first reported at 4:28 p.m., and quickly grew to 15 acres, causing a small evacuation effort and sending more than 100 first responders scrambling to contain the blaze.

By about 8 p.m, City Manager Bill Falsey said crews were confident they had the fire largely under control.

“We feel like we are in a good place and this is not going to get away from us,” Falsey said at an emergency command center set up close to the fire perimeter as three helicopters circled overhead dropping water on the flames.

Anchorage Fire Department Chief Jodie Hettrick said crews will continue dousing the area, and efforts to fully extinguish the fire will take days.

“What we need to do is dump a lot of water on this, and we have to walk the entire perimeter and make sure that we surround that perimeter to make sure we get good, solid coverage,” Hettrick said. “it’s gonna take a while.”

Wildland firefighters prepare to head into the woods in East Anchorage on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 to fight a fire that forced evacuations of a trailer park and two other areas of the city. (Photo by Nat Herz / Alaska Public Media)

With no rain or substantial change in the weather forecast, fire officials are wary of the hot, dry conditions in Anchorage that are elevating the fire risk. As of Tuesday evening, AFD was working on containment, and not yet investigating what set off the blaze.

“We do not know a cause or origin at this time, we have no comment because we have no information,” Hettrick said.

Flames got to about a half-mile from some homes, but ultimately were contained within the nearby greenbelt. There were no reports of lost life of property.

Thirty-seven children and adults were initially evacuated on municipal buses, but returned home later in the evening.

Updated: 8 p.m.

A fire that broke out in Anchorage parkland around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday forced brief evacuations of nearby neighborhoods.

A wildfire that broke out in Anchorage covered more than a dozen acres and forced evacuations on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Photo by Kirsten Swann/Alaska Public Media)

By 7 p.m., the fire had burned 15 acres and was 30 percent contained, according to the Anchorage Police Department. Officials had initially reported the fire was 80 percent contained.

Anchorage firefighters first attacked the blaze with help from a helicopter dropping water. No structures have burned, according to the Anchorage Fire Department.

The fire reportedly started in or near the federal Bureau of Land Management’s Campbell Tract to an area closer to neighborhoods a few blocks south of the busy intersection at Tudor Road and Lake Otis Parkway. Police closed another intersection, at Lake Otis and Dowling Road, and officials are asking residents to stay out of the area as firefighting efforts continue.

The Anchorage Police Department had issued evacuation notices for the Campbell Creek Science Center, Manoog’s Isle mobile home park and homes around 50th Avenue and Folker Street. Police set up an evacuation center at Wendler Middle School, and said city buses would help transport those who couldn’t drive themselves.

Anchorage resident Bill Smith, 78, waits at Wendler Middle School after being evacuated from his home in Manoog’s Isle trailer park as a brush fire burned on July 2, 2019. (Photo by Kirsten Swann / Alaska Public Media)

Residents evacuated from nearby neighborhoods began arriving at the school shortly after 6 p.m. Manoog’s Isle resident Bill Smith, 78, sat in a wheelchair in the parking lot, wished for a cigarette and said he worried about the fate of his home.

“Everything I own is there,” he said. “If it goes, I’m screwed.”

Smith’s son, Oengus Ravenwood, said he’d left work as soon as he heard about the fire, navigating thick traffic across town to help evacuate his father and his dog, Kodi, from the home they all shared.

“Everything we own is in that trailer,” he said. “I’ve got my truck, but without that house, we’ve got nothing.”

The fire grew to within a half-mile of residences, but due to containment efforts officials canceled evacuation notices by 7 p.m.

At a press conference Tuesday evening, Anchorage Fire Chief Jodie Hettrick said the cause of the fire is yet to be determined.

“We are focused on the active fire attack,” Hettrick said.

Alaska Public Media’s Kirsten Swann and Zachariah Hughes, as well as Alaska’s Energy Desk’s Nat Herz contributed reporting.

This is a developing story; check back for updates.