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Alaska Fires Close 90 Miles of Highway

June 27, 2004|From Associated Press

CHICKEN, Alaska — Wildfires kept 90 miles of highway closed Friday, stranding about 150 people and dozens of RVs in this tiny mining community.

About half the people were allowed to leave under escort before dawn Friday. Officials hoped to take another convoy early Saturday, when lower temperatures and higher humidity might diminish the flames.

The community was not believed to be in danger, but it has no land phone lines, so details were limited to occasional radio transmissions from fire crews, said Craig McCaa, a fire information officer in Tok.

Three fires -- fueled by light winds and hot, dry air -- prompted the closure of the Taylor Highway on Thursday on both sides of Chicken, a hamlet near the border with Canada with a year-round population of 21. Seasonal miners and travelers were also trapped there, fire officials said.

About 40 vehicles were led in a convoy early Friday to Tok, about 70 miles southwest, state fire information officer Kevin Koechlein said.

A convoy carrying fuel, food and water was headed back to Chicken and possibly another 90 miles up the highway to Eagle, a town of 126 people, he said.

Marlys House, who owns a small bed and breakfast in Eagle, said scheduled guests were calling to cancel. Instead she was letting her five rooms out to fire support crews.

The biggest of the fires, covering 33,000 acres, was about a mile south of the community but was not kicking up, McCaa said. That blaze was sparked June 15 by two lightning strikes.

A second fire to the south had burned at least 16,000 acres. The size of the third blaze, about six miles east of Chicken, was unknown.

On Thursday, 53 fires were active across the state, with crews fighting 11 of the blazes. The rest were being monitored, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. Fires have burned at least 350,654 acres this year, fire officials said.

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