McKinley Fire burns 50 structures south of Talkeetna, Alaska

McKinley Fire Alaska Parks highway
A smoke plume from the McKinley Fire burning along the Parks Highway is seen from the highway on Sunday, August 18. Photo by Maureen Clark/Alaska Division of Forestry.

(UPDATED at 8:43 a.m. PDT August 20, 2019)

From the Incident Management Team

Calmer winds Monday helped slow the spread of the McKinley Fire as firefighters continued their efforts to protect buildings and infrastructure.  An evacuation order for the area along the Parks Highway from Mileposts 82 to 91 remains in effect.

The Alaska Type 2 Interagency Incident Management Team assumed management of the fire Monday evening.  The addition of a dozen engines from Fairbanks and two crews from the Lower 48 in the next 24 hours are expected give a good boost to the firefighting effort. With the additional resources, fire managers will be adding a night shift to patrol the subdivisions in the fire area.

The McKinley Fire, which began Saturday near Milepost 91 of the Parks Highway is estimated at 3,012 acres.  Fueled by north winds gusting to 35 miles per hour, it quickly moved south on Sunday, burning along both sides of the Parks Highway corridor for 7 miles. An estimated 50 structures were destroyed by the fire.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety, State Fire Marshal and Alaska State Troopers are working with the Alaska Division of Forestry and Matanuska Susitna Borough to get a better estimate of structures burned and determine how many were residences. The State Fire Marshal’s Office and Alaska State Troopers are working to account for persons in the evacuation area. If you know of persons who may be unaccounted for please contact the Matanuska-Susitna Borough call center at 907-861-8326.

Here is a link to a map showing the fire perimeter and evacuation areas, updated August 19, 2019.

(Originally published at 2:44 p.m PDT August 19, 2019)

The McKinley Fire along the Parks Highway in Alaska burned at least 50 structures Sunday afternoon as firefighters and other emergency responders worked furiously to evacuate and rescue residents threatened by the fire.

The fire is 19 miles south of Talkeetna near Milepost 88 on the highway. (see map below)

Alaska Division of Forestry and Matanuska-Susitna Borough personnel are still working to account for residents who chose not to evacuate their homes or go to an evacuation shelter. Forestry, borough and Red Cross officials are working to determine how many structures were lost but specific details about structures that burned are not currently available.

Driven by strong north winds, the fire jumped from the east side of the Parks Highway to the west side at around 6 p.m. Sunday, prompting immediate evacuations on both sides of the highway from Mileposts 82 to 91.

The Parks Highway was closed at milepost 71.25 on the south and the Upper Susitna Senior Center on Helena Avenue at approximately milepost 98.5 on the north. The highway remained closed as of 11 p.m. There was no timetable for when the road will be reopened at the time of this report.

Map location McKinley Fire Talkeetna Alaska
Map showing the approximate location of the McKinley Fire south of Talkeetna, Alaska at 4:52 a.m. local time August 19, 2019. Map by Wildfire Today.

The latest size estimate on the fire was approximately 1,800 acres as of 10 p.m. Sunday.

Evacuation shelters have been established north and south of the Highway closure. The shelter on the south end is located at the Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla and the shelter on the north end is at the Upper Susitna Senior Center at approximately Mile 98.5.

The fire started Saturday afternoon when the wind blew a tree onto a power line near Milepost 91. The fire grew to about 150 acres overnight and burned up to the highway but remained east of the highway. That changed late Sunday afternoon when strong winds and warm, dry conditions resulted in extreme fire behavior that prevented suppression efforts and forced firefighters to focus their efforts on evacuating residents and protecting structures.

A Type 2 Incident Management Team from Alaska will be assuming command of the McKinley Fire on Tuesday. Two more incident management teams from the Lower 48 are en route to take over management of the Deshka Landing and Swan Lake Fires.

With the increase in wildfire activity in South-central Alaska the past two days, Forestry is also bringing up multiple other resources from the Lower 48 to assist with containment of fires. Ten hotshot crews are traveling to Alaska and should arrive Monday afternoon. Those crews will be split among the three fires listed above. Two large air tankers and four water-scooping aircraft are also en route.

McKinley Fire Alaska Parks highway
A portion of the McKinley Fire, Sunday, August 18, 2019 after the fire burned through the area. Photo by Maureen Clark/Alaska Division of Forestry.

Most of the information above provided by Alaska Division of Forestry.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

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