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Alaska crews fighting wildfire close to Allakaket

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Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012 10:11 am | Updated: 10:35 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

UPDATED at 6 p.m.

FAIRBANKS—A wildfire that started in the Allakaket dump Wednesday afternoon had grown to 2,400 acres by Thursday and was less than a mile from the closest homes in the Bush village on the Koyukuk River 190 miles northwest of Fairbanks.

However, east winds were pushing the fire away from the village and almost 200 firefighters were working to ensure that Allakaket would be protected if the winds shifted, fire information officer Mel Slater with the Alaska Fire Service said.

Five water-scooping airplanes were dropping water on the fire as firefighters on the ground constructed fire lines and attacked the edges of the blaze, which was roughly 3 1/2 miles long and a half mile wide.

The fire was moving northeast away from the village at last report. It was burning in black spruce, white spruce and hardwoods with 20 to 30 foot flame lengths.

“We don’t have containment, but it’s not moving toward the town anymore,” Slater said Thursday afternoon. “Right now they’re just trying to keep that northern line secure, which is closest to the town area.”

Only 40 firefighters were working the fire early Thursday morning, but by mid-afternoon the number of personnel on the fire had increased to almost 200, Slater said.

The fire was reported by local residents at around 4 p.m. Wednesday after it escaped the town dump, which is about a mile from the new town site, and spread into the surrounding wildlands. The cause of the fire was not known.

Local resident Emily Gray said strong winds fanned the fire and that it grew quickly after it escaped the dump.

“It was roaring yesterday,” Gray said by phone just before noon Thursday from the village tribal office. “We had some really good wind. It was up in seconds and jumping from tree to tree. It was very scary.

“Thankfully it went parallel to the new (town) site,” she said. “We have our elders that live at the new town site. That was our first concern, getting the elders away from there.”

The new town site, which has more than 20 homes, is only about one mile from the fire, Gray said.

Residents were advised by fire officials Wednesday to get all their important documents and papers together in the event the winds change and an evacuation becomes necessary, Gray said.

Steven Strassburg, city clerk in Allakaket, said a smoke column was visible from town and that villagers got “pretty excited” when the fire took off Wednesday.

“It was pretty close and the winds were 15-20 mph,’ he said. “If they shifted and turned it toward the village it could have been pretty scary.”

Airplanes were scooping water out of the Koyukuk River in front of the village to dump on the fire, he said.

“I had my kids there,” he said. “They were having a lot of fun watching the airplanes scoop water out of the river.”

About 100 residents live in the village.

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

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