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VIDEO: Alaska Wildfire Eats Up Over 700 acres

VIDEO: Alaska Wildfire Eats Up Over 700 acres

Anchorage Daily News

May 23, 2011

Fairbanks — Hot, dry and windy weather stoked Alaska’s first large wildfire of the season from a quarter-acre blaze north of Fairbanks on Friday afternoon to more than 700 acres of burning hillside by Saturday, fire officials said.

The Moose Mountain Fire ignited near the well-populated Goldstream area, but it was burning away from residential areas on Saturday, according to the Division of Forestry.

As of Saturday, there were no reports of burned structures, according to the Division of Forestry.

The wildfire was estimated at between 700 and 900 acres Saturday, said Forestry spokesman Pete Buist. The estimated size could increase today with better mapping, Buist said.

About 200 firefighters were assigned to the fire, with another 50 set to arrive today with a specialized incident team, Buist said.

(Time-lapsed video of the fire)

“If we can hold onto it today, we’ll be in pretty good shape,” he said Saturday. “If it gets away from us today, they’ll have their hands full.”

More wind and temperatures in the 70s prevailed, and the fire was threatening to grow again Saturday afternoon, Buist said about 4 p.m.

“We’re getting into the time of day, sort of the height of the burning period, that it could expand,” Buist said. The fire had flared up as it continued to burn to the northeast, Buist said.

It ignited Friday about 3:30 p.m. and grew quickly. The blaze was listed almost immediately as human-caused, but the official cause was still under investigation.

A massive column of smoke shot up, visible from most of the Fairbanks area, said Ester Volunteer Fire Department Chief Cameron Wohlford, one of the first firefighters to arrive in the area.

“It was really high-velocity, dark, dense smoke. You could tell it was in a heavy stand of dense black spruce,” Wohlford said. “It was just ripping up that hill.”

Wohlford and others prepared equipment for battle and surveyed the area, he said. Fire engines and tankers amassed at nearby restaurant Ivory Jack’s, while smaller brush trucks drove area roads.

They could see that where the fire burned was not accessible by road, Wohlford said. An aerial assault began, Forestry officials said.

“It’s a big deal,” Wohlford said. “A fire that big, this close to town, in an area that they’ve known for a long time that it could get real nasty.”

Helicopter crews, air tankers armed with retardant, and smoke jumpers attacked from above Friday. Overnight on the ground, crews cut fire lines by hand and with bulldozers, Buist said Saturday.

“That’s what kept the fire where it is today and why it hasn’t spread,” Buist said.

Across Alaska, a total of 15 active fires burned Saturday, but none as large as the Moose Mountain fire.

Firefighters in Anchorage knocked down a grass fire near the Rabbit Creek Shooting Park on Friday that burned up to 10 acres. No structures were damaged, according to the Anchorage Fire Department.

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