Fire crews began strategic firing operations out at Murphy Dome on Friday as part of efforts to mitigate the 10,000 acre Shovel Creek Fire.
The days leading up to the fire were cloudy, allowing firefighters to plan and prepare for the operations, according to Kale Casey, spokesman with the Pacific Northwest Team 2 Type 1 Incident Management Team.
“Fire activity has been very minimal while we’ve been preparing all of the structures for structure protection and the lines for containment,” Casey said.
Firefighters had been waiting for the window to have a "safe, clean" burn, according to Casey. This required weather conditions to be pushing the fire away from firefighters, as well as clear skies and a lack of rain. Once the cloud cover cleared, firefighters waited to be certain the weather would pan out, then began burning.
The operation began mid-afternoon and continued into the evening. Firefighters worked with helicopters, air support dropping retardant, and ground support from fire engines, pumps and hoses to get a containment line burning.
The timeline of the burn will be organic, according to Casey.
“They’ll go until they get to a good stopping place and conditions," he said.
Murphy Dome Road was closed Friday, extending from Murphy Dome Summit to Old Murphy Dome Road. People in the nearest subdivisions, Martin and Perfect Perch, have already evacuated, while those still residing in the area are able to call, check social media or look at messages posted in the area for updates.
The Chatanika River Corridor remains in a Level 1 evacuation notice, ready for a possible evacuation, although some of the area is being mopped up where the fire went down from the northwest.
A community meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday in the Ken Kunkel Community Center.
“People can call us on our info line," Cooper said. "We’ve been posting that all over, we don’t want to lose anybody because they don’t have internet or anything like that.”
“Weather is supposed to stay hot and dry here for the foreseeable future,” said Tim Mowry, spokesman for the Alaska Division of Forestry.
Firefighters are anticipating growth on existing fires, as well as the potential for human-caused starts as a result of the conditions, according to Mowry.
Although no large fires popped up over the Fourth of July, a new fire emerged near the Tok cutoff Friday afternoon. The Tulsona Creek Fire was reported at 1 p.m. and was at 40 acres as of Friday afternoon. Two air tankers and two water-scooping aircraft are assigned to the fire, which is burning 2 miles east from the University of Alaska Fairbanks High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program antenna site, better known as HAARP.
The Boundary River Fire, also burning near Tok, is lingering at a little over 15,000 acres and is being worked by 143 personnel. The lightning-caused fire has been burning since June 23.
“It hasn’t grown any, it hasn’t made any really significant movement in the last few days,” Mowry said.
Fire crews are still engaged in point protection in the area, according to Mowry, as well as hoping to develop a direct line northeast of the fire, where the weather has pushed the firefighters back in previous days.
A contingency plan is being developed should the village of Northway need to be evacuated.
In Two Rivers, the Caribou Creek Fire is now 80 percent contained. The fire was caused by lightning on June 16 and has been mopped up over the last several days.
“It’s just a pretty extensive mop up given the terrain they’re in,” Mowry said, adding that the area was steep and there is a lot of jackstraw to deal with.
Non-essential equipment is being moved from the Caribou Creek Fire to be redistributed for other firefighting efforts.
The Hess Creek Fire, last mapped at 99,100 acres, has been burning since June 21. The lightning-caused fire is southeast of Stevens Village, with the Type 3 Incident Management Team monitoring its progression and setting up point protection.
“(Thursday) we did start to see more active fire. There was smoke in the air and we saw acreage growth as things have warmed up and started to dry out after rain the previous days,” said Sierra Hellstrom, spokeswoman with the Bureau of Land Management.
Hellstrom added the personnel working on the fire are anticipating more fire activity, as the weather changes.
Firefighters in the Livengood area have completed structure protection and are now working on protection for historical and cultural areas. For example, Hellstrom said an older cemetery in the area is being looked at.
The White Mountains National Recreation Area, although not being threatened immediately, is on the radar for potential fire growth.
“It is moving towards that area. That is the direction of the growth,” Hellstrom said.
With the wildfire being unpredictable and limited cellphone coverage, Hellstrom advised caution and preparedness to anyone looking to be in the recreation area in coming days. Even the scenario of smoke from the fire blowing into the nearby area, Hellstrom said, could complicate plans for anyone intending to do air pickup.
“So just having secondary plans of egress is really important,” she said.
The Nightyeight Creek Fire is 15 percent contained as of Friday morning. Firefighters spent Fourth of July strengthening containment lines out in Salcha, where the lightning-caused fire has been burning for the last week.
A temporary flight restriction remains in place over the area.
The Foraker Fire, in Denali National Park and Preserve, saw increased fire activity toward the south, firefighters reported. The lightning-caused fire was the first to start in the park this year, on June 26.
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/FDNMlocal