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Interior Alaska wildfires spreading as warm, dry weather continues

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Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 7:31 pm | Updated: 12:40 pm, Fri Aug 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS—Heavy smoke blanketed the Delta Junction area as the Mississippi Fire grew to more than 56,000 acres and neared structures south of the Tanana River, fire officials said Wednesday.

One hundred miles to the north, another blaze east of Circle Hot Springs had grown to almost 25,000 acres, and a fire line was being built away from its leading edge to slow its spread if needed.

In between the two larger fires, the Caribou Creek Fire in the middle Salcha River country remained at about 1,150 acres, although the thick smoke made estimates difficult, officials said. Fire managers warned hunters and cabin owners to avoid the area because the fire could spread rapidly in the dry conditions.

Jim Schwarber, public information officer with the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, encouraged people to be careful with fire, whether they’re in a backyard or the backcountry.

“It’s still really dry out there,” he said. “The conditions are still really ripe for rapid fire spread.”

Mississippi Fire

In the Delta area, the northern edge of the Mississippi Fire had reached the upper stretches of Clear Creek, also known as the Richardson Clearwater, according to a fire perimeter map on the AICC website. The creek, a tributary on the south side of the Tanana River, has a number of recreational cabins along its banks.

Firefighters were working Wednesday to provide individual protection to those cabins as well as homes in the Whitestone Farms community and the South Bank state homestead area, both of which lie west of Delta Junction on the south side of the Tanana.

Schwarber said “individual protection” could take several forms. If a water source is handy, firefighters might hook a pump to sprinklers. “They can actually set those up and leave them running if the fire is coming too close to be safe for firefighters,” Schwarber said.

Firefighters also might remove brush or trees near a structure, burn around the structure or doze a line around it, he said.

A dozer line on the west side of Whitestone Farms was being extended westward to the Mississippi fire’s edge, according to the AICC summary.

Firefighters were assessing the need to provide individual structure protection along the Richardson Highway between Tenderfoot and Fort Greely on the north and east sides of the Tanana and Delta rivers.

Birch Creek Fire

The Birch Creek Fire near Circle Hot Springs will be the subject of a public meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday behind the Central museum. Fire managers will answer questions and provide a briefing on the fire.

The most recent fire perimeter map on the AICC website indicated the fire covers an area from Birch Creek west to within about five miles of Circle Hot Springs. Firefighters were working to establish an indirect line — one well away from the fire’s leading edge — between Medicine Lake, located about two miles northeast of the springs, and Portage Creek, which flows out of the hills about a mile east of the springs.

Schwarber said an indirect line away from the fire’s edge is generally put in a place where firefighters can strengthen it with a burn-out or with aircraft dropping water and retardant. It’s done when placing a direct line along a fire’s edge is too dangerous, he said.

Weather

Weather conditions continue to elevate the fire danger in the central and eastern Interior. An advisory issued Friday by the Alaska Fire Service was still in effect Wednesday. It warned that weather conditions are producing “record-setting fire spread potential and high resistance to suppression efforts across boreal spruce and tussock tundra fuels.”

The National Weather Service’s fire weather planning forecast said isolated wet thunderstorms were possible in the middle Tanana Valley on Wednesday afternoon “but most of the activity will be confined to the eastern Interior near the Al-Can border through Friday.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the service’s public forecast for weather in the middle Tanana Valley called for mostly cloudy skies, with a chance of showers and high temperatures in the mid-70s through Saturday. On Sunday, there is a chance of rain, along with high temperatures in the mid-60s.

Contact assistant managing editor Sam Bishop at 459-7574.

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