Firefighters gain a little on Alaska fire

By Alex Demarban
Anchorage Daily News
Copyright 2007 Anchorage Daily News
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Firefighters south of Anchor Point kept a wildland blaze at bay Saturday, felling trees, laying hose and drowning out hot spots on the fire's edge, state firefighters said.

The Sayer Road fire held through the day at about 15 acres and didn't threaten homes, according to the state Division of Forestry. No one is calling it controlled, but firefighters did gain an advantage Saturday and called the fire about 10 percent contained.

More than 40 firefighters, some local volunteers, built a five-foot break around the fire where trees, grass and other combustibles had been removed, said Kris Eriksen, forestry division spokeswoman. Light winds in the sparsely populated area helped.

The fire will be considered contained when the fire break is 30 feet wide. That could take days, she said.

Thick grass or heavy timber line the blaze, and progress was slowed by toppling trees.

"They're taking time to be extra careful and not be bonked on the head," she said.

Incident commander Don Anderson reported some trees toward the middle of the fire flaring up Saturday, along a ridge south of North Fork Road, with fingers of fire pushing down toward the road, Eriksen said. The fire continued to throw up smoke, but she hadn't heard complaints from homeowners about the smell.

Firefighting aircraft — a helicopter and a plane that drops retardant from its belly — weren't needed Saturday but remained on hand, she said.

The fire was first reported as a quarter-acre blaze by Alaska State Troopers about 2 p.m. Friday. It quickly burned up a slope and grew in dry grasses and spruce trees, said Patrick Quiner, area support foreman for the forestry division.

It was about 12 acres late Friday night and reported at 15 acres Saturday morning.

When it was perhaps four feet wide, a teenage girl tried to put it out with a flip-flop, Eriksen said. She was fortunate to end up with only blisters on her hands.

"Wildfires may not seem dangerous because they're smaller, but they move quickly and you can be caught in them," she said.

Fire danger remained high Saturday and the forestry division announced that permitted burning for the entire western Kenai Peninsula is closed until further notice, a news release said. Burning in barrels is also suspended until the weather changes.

Campfires are allowed, but the fire must be in a dirt area, in a fire ring away from vegetation, including moss and peat, with water available to douse the fire. People should not light a fire during windy conditions, the release said.

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