Fire forces evacuation order for residents near Chena Hot Springs, east of Fairbanks

Yukon Fire Crew Boss trainee Matthew Habermann, second from left, points out an old burn area across the West Fork Chena River from Shawn McCullough, right, and his wife, Janey’s home on Sunday, July 4, 2021. The Yukon crew were performing structure triage of homes along Chena Hot Springs Road between mileposts 52 and 56 as the Munson Creek Fire continues to burn. (Sam Harrel/Alaska Incident Management Team)

Fire officials have issued an evacuation order for residents in the area of the Munson Creek Fire, near Chena Hot Springs Resort east of Fairbanks.

The state Division of Forestry announced the evacuation Monday afternoon for anyone from Mile 48 of Chena Hot Springs Road to Mile 56, where the resort is located at the end of the road. Motorists in the area are asked to use caution due to thick smoke and fire fighting equipment on the road.

Chena Hot Springs Resort owner Bernie Karl told firefighters he does not intend to evacuate and will instead shelter in place, but some guests and staff are leaving, according to the Forestry statement.

“Fire managers expect to be able to see flames coming over the ridge toward the resort,” the statement said. “Firefighters working to cut a fire break behind the hot springs were pulled back and are now focusing on structure protection around the resort and at homes/cabins along Chena Hot Springs Road.”

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After better mapping Sunday, officials said the Munson Creek Fire had burned about 19,700 acres. It was caused by lightning about two and a half weeks ago.

Crews have been putting pumps and sprinklers around structures in the area, forestry officials said. There were a total of 116 firefighters assigned to the Munson Creek Fire on Monday, including crews on the ground and in the air, with more personnel and equipment headed to the area. Two new crews — the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Gannett Glacier crews — are also on the way to help fight the fire, the officials said.

Meantime, the Division of Forestry said one of its firefighters was seriously injured Saturday in a rollover crash on Chena Hot Springs Road. The firefighter was ejected from the state forestry truck, and after initial treatment, medevaced to an Anchorage hospital and listed in serious but stable condition.

A forecast of cooler weather, higher humidity and the possibility of rain will help slow the fire’s growth, officials said.

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Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media. cgrove [at] alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8446 | About Casey