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Firefighters make strides in battling 82,000-acre Alaska blaze

Laurel Andrews
As of Tuesday morning, the fire was recorded at 82,274 acres. “Even when it was raining” the fire grew, said Joe Anderson, Fire Information Officer with the Alaska Fire Service. AICC photo

The massive Stuart Creek fire continues to burn through brittle boreal forest near the Interior community of Two Rivers, but with cooler weather and hundreds of firefighters battling the fire, the Alaska Fire Service made strides Monday night in containing the mushrooming 82,000-acre blaze.

The fire grew by more than 38,000 acres on Monday, reaching 79,100 acres total. But as the wind stilled and rainclouds moved into the area, the Alaska Fire Service canceled its evacuation notice at 3 p.m. Residents who the day before had fled their homes were able to return, although some residents had chosen to stay put during the evacuation call.

As of Tuesday morning, the fire was recorded at 82,274 acres. “Even when it was raining” the fire grew, said Joe Anderson, fire information officer with the Alaska Fire Service. You can see how the area covered here

Still, “this is a great time to get a lot of work done,” Anderson said. With rain in the forecast, and a “massive contingency of resources” -- 734 firefighters from 23 crews from across the U.S., as well as helicopters and aircrafts -- Anderson hopes more of the fire can be contained.

They’ve already made strides, with 15 percent contained by Tuesday morning, a 10 percent jump from the previous day.

Cool weather won’t last, Anderson said, and the forest is “almost at a record high as far as being dry.” Now is the time to cut down the blaze as much as possible, especially on the north side, near Chena River and the community of Two Rivers.

Monday evening’s rainfall varied from 1½ inches to less than a quarter inch, said Scott Berg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Tuesday's forecast calls for isolated showers. “We’re not really looking for a lot of really defined precipitation over the fire area,” Berg said. “It’s going to be spotty,” he said.

The fire started June 19. Although the army initially said it was sparked during routine artillery training, on Monday it appeared to backtrack on its previous statements. So far, it's cost $6.6 million to fight. No structures have been damaged, and no residents have been injured.

Alaska State Troopers confirmed that they will maintain a presence in the area until all evacuees have returned home. An evacuation watch remains in effect for miles 16 through 34 of Chena Hot Springs road. Anderson asked that motorists drive slowly through the area.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com