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McHugh Creek Fire Nears Highway, Kenai Peninsula Sees Milder Fire Season

Photo courtesy of the Alaska Division of Forestry

Tuesday a.m. update: The Seward Highway was restricted to one-lane traffic at 5 a.m. Tuesday, after the McHugh Creek Fire expanded toward the road.

Activity on the fire picked up Monday evening, with spot fires jumping the retardant line and spreading within 1.7 miles of the Rainbow Valley Subdivision to the north. The Anchorage Fire Department and Alaska Division of Forestry are evaluating potential evacuations of the Rainbow Valley Subdivision to the north and the Potter Creek Subdivision 2.5 miles to the south.

As of Tuesday morning, the fire was estimated at 200 acres, and Forestry has 100 personnel on scene, as well as fixed wing and helicopter support.

Original story:

Air tankers, helicopters and hotshot crews continue to try to contain a 60-acre wildfire burning near the McHugh Creek trailhead along Turnagain Arm near Anchorage.

Credit Lori Wiertsema/Alaska Division of Forestry
Traffic was restricted to one lane on the Seward Highway at 5 a.m. Tuesday, when the McHugh Creek Fire expanded toward the road.

The McHugh Creek Fire was reported Sunday, about three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead parking lot at Mile 111 of the Seward Highway. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. Officials with the Alaska Division of Forestry say that fire retardant dumps will continue Tuesday, as will work to clear a line of brush and trees along the fire’s perimeter.

So far, the fire hasn’t resulted in a closure of the highway, though traffic has slowed as drivers watch the helicopters and smoke.

On the Kenai Peninsula, this has fire season, from April through August, has been relatively mild, says Dan Govoni, head of fire prevention with Forestry for the Kenai-Kodiak area. Though there have been about 85 fires on the peninsula this spring and summer, the largest was less than an acre, he says. We’re not out of the woods yet, though.

“The potential is still there for us to get a larger-size fire. We’re not completely done yet, especially with the warm weather and everything else that’s set in,” Govoni said.

Forestry issued a burn permit suspension as of 8 a.m. Monday. That affects larger, yard-clearing activities, but not recreational fires.

“Burn barrels, brush and debris piles and lawn grass. It does not impact campfires, it does not impact fish smokers or commercially made cooking appliances — like, camp stoves and Coleman stoves, Jet Boils and things like that,” Govoni said.

Be sure to check fire rules in communities, as well.

Govoni says Kenai that Peninsula residents have been good about burning safely this year. He attributes the lack of large wildfires on the peninsula so far this season in large part to this safe behavior.

“The residents, in general, on the peninsula are more aware of fire itself and what it’s capable of doing. Between Funny River and Card Street, it brought to light the impact that large-scale fires can have on a community. And I think that they’ve just been more cautious,” Govoni said.

Forestry has also stepped up its educational campaign this year, installing six new fire danger signs along peninsula roadways, with one more to go in at the Kenai Municipal Airport. There’s been more dissemination of information, as well.

“We went through and worked with a number of stores and vendors from Sterling all the way through to Homer and out onto East End Road and have been putting burn permits and Firewise information and campfire safety information at a number of locations,” Govoni said.

On a larger scale, Forestry, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and other agencies have been working together on wildfire mitigation projects, like creating firebreaks in strategic areas.

Govoni hopes that these efforts, with continued caution by the public, will keep the peninsula fire-free for the rest of the season.

“The residents of the peninsula have been doing an excellent job this season of being Firewise and being fire safe. And as long as folks are safe with fire and they keep it under control and they make sure when they’re done that it’s completely out — not just warm but I mean completely out, cold to the touch — hopefully we should be able to survive the season with minimal impacts,” Govoni said.

For more information on the burn permit suspension, call the Forestry information line at 260-4369.

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