Stefan Hinman / Mat-Su Borough / Reuters

Fast-growing Alaska wildfires force evacuations

Fire crews are battling two Alaska wildfires threatening hundreds of residences and forcing numerous evacuations

Fire crews are battling two serious wildfires in Alaska that are threatening hundreds of residences and have forced numerous evacuations.

The most recent fire erupted Monday and burned six structures and prompted hundreds of residents to flee homes on the Kenai Peninsula, roughly 150 miles south of major wildfire that started a day earlier near Willow in the heart of the state's sled-dog community.

An Alaska wildfire north of Anchorage has led to the voluntary evacuation of up to 1,700 structures, restricted traffic and forced hundreds to evacuate.

“It's got a little wind behind [it], it has a lot of fuel and it's grown,” said Tim Mowry, spokesman for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center said of the longer-burning fire.

The fire on the Kenai Peninsula, the second blaze, was first reported in the early afternoon Monday as a 1-acre grass fire near the community of Sterling, but by early evening it had expanded to 640 acres was threatening some 200 homes.

Alaska's Department of Natural Resources said in a news release that the “explosive wildland fire on the Kenai Peninsula forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes,” but did not provide a more precise figure.

It said that it's still unclear if the six burned structures are homes or some other buildings.

There have been no reports of any serious injuries in connection with either fire.

Officials said Monday afternoon that first fire was zero percent contained, with the weather expected to continue to be warm and dry.

On Monday, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker took an aerial tour of the fire, which has burned at least 25 homes and up to 20 other structures including sheds and outhouses. Walker later said he accepted the Matanuska-Susitna Borough's request for state disaster declaration for the affected area.

Mowry said 210 residents signed in at evacuation centers in Houston and near Talkeetna. One firefighter has been treated for heat exhaustion.

The blaze was reported at just 2 acres Sunday afternoon and had burned through more than 10 square miles by early Monday, officials said.

As many as 200 firefighters have been battling the 6,500-acre fire with more specially trained teams en route from the Lower 48 states, Alaska Forestry Division spokesman Sam Harrel said.

Harrel said flames quickly jumped from one 30- to 40-foot spruce tree to the next, forcing a temporary closure of the Parks Highway, which links Anchorage in the state's south central region to Fairbanks in Alaska's eastern interior.

Steve Charles sits alongside his sled dog, Bridger, at an American Red Cross evacuation center in Houston, Alaska, on Monday, June 15, 2015. Many mushers had to evacuate not only themselves or but their dogs.
Mark Thiessen / AP Photo

Crews have been attacking the fire on the ground and by air, getting help from the three Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopters, according to state reports.

Harrel said the fire was ignited by human activity but the specific cause remains under investigation. Dry and warm weather accelerated the blaze, he said. 

About 500 dogs have been rescued, according to Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member Vern Halter, a former Iditarod musher.

About 200 of those dogs ended up with four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser at his kennels in Big Lake about 20 miles from the fire. He also was taking in displaced residents, including veteran Iditarod musher DeeDee Jonrowe, who lost her home.

Wire services

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