Thursday, 8 a.m. update: The Parks Highway is impassible due to heavy smoke. Travel is not advised.
8:50 P.M. update: FAIRBANKS—A wildfire halfway between Fairbanks and Nenana broke containment and was moving toward the Parks Highway Wednesday night, prompting a closure of nearly 30 miles of the state’s main north-south traffic route.
Spokespersons for the Alaska Division of Forestry and Department of Transportation confirmed the highway had been closed to northbound traffic near Little Goldstream Bridge at milepost 317, just north of Nenana, and southbound traffic near the Parks Monument at milepost 344. The fire was reported to be burning near mile 328.
“What I understand is the Skinny’s Road Fire has broke its containment line and is making a run for the Parks Highway,” said forestry spokesman Jim Schwarber shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Signs warning drivers of the closure were posted in Ester and in Nenana, DOT northern region spokeswoman Hannah Blankenship said.
The Skinny’s Road Fire, named for its proximity to Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn, began Tuesday afternoon and crews responded throughout the night and had believed they had it stopped moving by Wednesday morning.
But hot and dry wind revived the fire and began pushing it toward the highway, Schwarber said, breaking a bulldozer trail along the perimeter of the fire.
The same dry weather that has been plaguing the Interior with fires also sparked a number of other blazes throughout the state Wednesday afternoon. Those additional fires in Mat-Su, Kenai, Tok, Delta and the Copper River area were stretching the state’s fire response abilities pretty thin, Schwarber said.
“We’re experiencing about 12 new fires in the last three hours in the state listing,” he said. “This fire is three miles from the road and it’s being pushed by a north wind. We’re having trouble to get vehicles to help us right now, so we may have to make a stand at the road.”
Schwarber said the state has been able to avoid any major fire so far because it has been able to hit any sparks with plenty of resources.
“This is why we’re encouraging people to be ultra-careful,” he said. “Fires can burn very quickly ... about five to 10 miles a day, under these conditions. The reason we’ve had no big fires close to town has been because we’ve been able to respond quickly and we’ve had a bit of luck.”
Additional information on road conditions will be available through the state’s 511 service at 51.alaska.gov.
Alaska Highway fires
The Department of Transportation issued a number of travel advisories along the Alaska Highway on Wednesday night because of four fires burning in three areas.
Drivers should be aware that smoke and fire crews could be on the roads in these areas, DOT northern region spokeswoman Hannah Blankenship said.
An advisory was issued for the area from milepost 1220, which is near the Alaska-Canada border, west to milepost 1264 and Northway Junction.
The second advisory applies to the area between milepost 1275 near Northway Junction and milepost 1305 at the Tanana River Bridge.
A third advisory is for milepost 1325 at Tanacross junction to milepost 1380 at Dry Creek.
“The highway is not closed at this time, and drivers need to turn their headlights on and be watching firefighters on the road as well as flaggers and pilot cars,” she said. “We want to remind people that fires are near and smoke could affect visibility.”
Ski Boot Hill fire
Firefighters responded to a less-than-one-acre wildfire north of Farmers Loop near Ski Boot Hill in Fairbanks on Wednesday afternoon.
Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Pete Buist said crews and a helicopter bucket were deployed to the fire, which is in the vicinity of Summit and Ski Boot Hill off of Noel Drive.
Buist the fire was relatively minor and crews were confident that it could be brought under control.
“It’s probably not a raging ground fire,” he said. “Between the helicopter bucket and the boys in yellow, they should have it taken care of.”
Within an hour of first response, the fire was reported to be smoldering.
Some attention was diverted from the Skinny’s Road Fire on Tuesday afternoon and evening for three relatively small fires in the Nordale-road area, all of which reported to be mostly taken care of.
“Those three fires were all caught, they may not be ought they may not be totally contained but they were smacked down and caught,” Buist said.
Of those three, a three-acre fire east of Nordale Road that’s known as the Forlice Road Fire posed the most serious threat to property. Buist said efforts were ongoing Wednesday morning to ensure all the hot spots had been put out.
The two other fires had been caused by trees falling on power lines.
Clear Air Force Station fire
A lightning-sparked fire near Clear Air Force Station poses no threat to the military facility, the Division of Forestry announced in an update Wednesday morning.
The station’s activities have not been impacted by the fire thanks to the presence of extra crews, who were stationed in anticipation of a fire when it sparked on June 20.
The fire has burned about 80 acres and is about 40-percent contained, the morning update stated. The work has been impeded by strong winds and dry fuels, especially on the northern side of the burn. The update says the fire hasn’t grown in days and that lines are holding.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544.