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Stuart Creek 2 Fire at 40,000 acres; containment elusive

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Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 12:09 am | Updated: 4:37 pm, Tue Jul 23, 2013.

FAIRBANKS—The official size of the Stuart Creek 2 Fire is now listed at 40,247 acres, an increase of 8,233 acres since Friday, according to this morning’s regular update from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Nearly 400 people are working on the fire.

The report says weather conditions have hampered firefighting efforts.

“The increase of temperature, along with decreasing humidity, tested completed containment lines,” the report reads. “Increased fire intensity limited planned direct line construction. Intensified fire behavior restricted suppression efforts to indirect line construction and aerial retardant application.”

This story will be updated

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TWO RIVERS — Today’s weather forecast looks bleak with hot, dry weather and winds predicted to bring fire north toward Chena Hot Springs Road. Relief in the form of rain is in the forecast Monday for the community that’s been under an evacuation watch since Tuesday.

Fire manager Jerry McGowan had a frank message for a crowd of more than 250 Saturday night at the Pleasant Valley Community Center.

Although there’s a force of more than 400 people and 20 aircraft fighting the fire, they have not yet contained the northern edge in the direction of Chena Hot Springs Road.

“I won’t promise you the fire is not coming to you, and I’d be lying to you if I did,” he said. “But I want to hang onto the fire at the Chena (River).”

Pointing to a map of the fire, he indicated a set of hills on the southern banks of the Chena River. If the fire reaches these, he will call for an evacuation, he said. Such evacuations aren’t legally binding but would be highly encouraged because of the extreme destructive power of wildfires. An evacuation order would go out through emergency radio broadcasts, the borough’s reverse 911 system and, if possible, door-to-door notifications. The area between 14 Mile and 32 Mile is under an evacuation watch, which means residents are encouraged to be ready to move on short notice.

The 32,014-acre Stuart Creek 2 Fire started June 25 in the military’s Yukon Training Area. While initially contained, the blaze made a 6-mile run to the north Tuesday, triggering the evacuation watch. Fortunately, better weather prevailed for the rest of the week, and the fire remained an estimated 4 1/2 miles from the Chena River.

On Saturday, conditions were hot and dry again. Hose lines had been set up around the Pleasant Valley Community Center and a handful of residents wore face masks to the meeting because thick smoke again covered the community. The more than standing-room crowd broke into spontaneous applause at references to firefighting crews — especially the successful effort to save the community from the Kanuti Fire last month. But they also asked McGowan plenty of hard questions.

One of the most common was about the perception in Two Rivers that firefighters are doing more to fight the southern edge of the fire toward Eielson Air Force Base than to protect Two Rivers from the advancing northern edge.

McGowan, who leads an elite “type-one” firefighting crew that took command of the fire Saturday, said the fact that they haven’t been able to build a bulldozer line across the north of the fire is a factor of the limited road access and topography as well as the direction the wind took the fire. They’re now racing up the western flank of the fire, trying to build a line across its northern side, he said.

“You may not see all of the efforts going on, but there is a heck of a lot of effort going on,” he said.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.

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