Crews battling the Shovel Creek Fire entered the second day of strategic firing operations today as the blaze continues to grow.
The fire, which a lightning strike started June 21, is burning northwest of Fairbanks and has grown to 11,731 acres as of this afternoon.
A burnout operation is meant to prevent the fire from moving towards neighborhoods near the south and east perimeters. The area is primarily wooded with black spruce, which ignite and burn easily due to their highly resinous needles and branches, according to the Alaska Wildland Fire Information website. Burnout operations reduce the risk of future wildfires and minimize risk to firefighters and the public near the current fire area.
Kale Casey of the Pacific Northwest Team 2 Type 1 Incident Management team explained "the good, the bad and the ugly" news about the firefighting efforts in a video update posted on the fire information website this morning.
The good news, according to Casey, is that containment of the fire was up to 15% and will increase. Hot shots were mopping up from the Chatanika Rivers, where a fire scar from 2009 held the current fire from moving forward.
The bad news is that smoke from the Shovel Creek Fire and seven other Interior fires will continue to blanket Fairbanks for the foreseeable future. The fires in the Upper Tanana River and Yukon River zone are in areas where the state does not have fire suppression policies, and some of them are gaining about 5,000 to 10,000 acres a day.
“So that’s the bad. Let’s talk about the ugly,” Casey said. "We really didn’t have anything ugly happen yesterday. We had a couple of little spot fires that we were totally able to handle. We know it's hotter and dryer, and we spent most of the night with the engine crews out here pre-treating around the structures," Casey said. "Pre-treating is spraying hose from the sprinklers all around the landscape around the cabins in here because, today, the firing operation's going to go from around the Martin Subdivision out to our dozer line."
The Martin and Perfect Perch subdivisions have been evacuated. The Lincoln Creek, Murphy, McCloud and Vancouver subdivisions are on "set" status, meaning residents could be asked to evacuate at a moment's notice. The Chatanika River Corridor, Drouin, Hardluck, Moose Mountain, Coyote Jones and Hattie Creek subdivisions are on a "ready" status, meaning residents should be alert to the existing fire and begin gathering pets, prescriptions, paperwork and other personal items so they can promptly leave should conditions suddenly change.
A high pressure system over most of the state means the hot, dry weather will continue into next week. Overnight temperatures are expected to stay above 60 degrees, and highs in the mid-80s are expected, according to the Alaska Wildland Fire Information webpage. Thunderstorms on Thursday and Friday will bring rain but also the risk of lightning strikes which could start additional fires.
Murphy Dome Summit and Old Murphy Dome Road have been closed. The westbound junction of Spinach Creek Road and Old Murphy Dome Road and the northbound junction of Murphy Dome Road and Old Murphy Dome Road are also closed. All closures are staffed by the Alaska Air National Guard and will remain in place until further notice. A temporary flight restriction is in place over the fire.
Videos of the fire and firefighting operations can be viewed online at the Shovel Creek Fire YouTube channel at bit.ly/2L4Qc7M.
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.