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Rain smothers Interior Alaska wildfires

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Posted: Monday, June 14, 2010 6:24 pm | Updated: 1:13 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS - Steady rain has stifled what had been a busy start to the wildfire season.

The cold soak came as visiting fire crews, on loan from outside Alaska, wrapped up their assignments and began to head home.

Firefighters this morning said they still saw warm pockets at the head of the active Eagle Trail Fire near Tok but were able to capitalize on the rain by inching closer toward fully containing the 19-day-old blaze.

Rain hit much of the state, with a few places reporting an inch and a half of rainfall in a span of 24 hours.

Crews at the 18,000-acre Eagle Trail Fire, where the Tanana Valley State Forest’s hills and thick tree stands make for tough firefighting conditions at the fire’s western flank, advanced work on a “containment ring” around the perimeter, said Sarah Saarloos, a spokeswoman for a Tok-based management team. Crews had also started to break down some equipment this weekend and to look toward repairing damage caused during early firefighting efforts, she said.

“We’ve already sent some crews home,” Saarloos said, referring to specialty crews on loan from Oregon, California and other states. The fire had drawn almost 450 firefighters, managers and other personnel, according to the management team's most recent report.

Fire managers ordered the crews last month as sunny, dry weather baked much of the state. But managers Saturday reported seeing only low chances a separate blaze, the Toklat 2 fire burning 25 miles southwest of Nenana, could grow significantly in the coming days. The fire, which at an estimated 189,000 acres has burned an area three times the city of Seattle, was limited this weekend to “smoldering and creeping.”

Meteorologists said Interior Alaska could see rain sporadically through the coming week, a forecast that covered Delta Junction, Fairbanks, Nenana and spots in-between. A warm weather system emerging from the Bering Strait west of Alaska could dry Fairbanks and spots just north of the Alaska Range on Monday, said Kelly Allen, with the National Weather Service.

“(But) everywhere else in the area will still be raining,” she said.

The weather service said Delta Junction and surrounding areas could see minor flooding and Allen said the broader Interior region can expect rain and temperatures holding 10 degrees below average for this time of the year.

Roughly 370 wildfires this summer have burned an estimated 856,481 acres across Alaska, almost one-third the acreage burned through the entire 2009 season.

Contact staff writer Christopher Eshleman at 459-7582.

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