Photo courtesy Pam Howard Emergency crews stage at the end of the runway in Tyonek Monday afternoon. The blaze grew to 80 acres by Monday evening.

Photo courtesy Pam Howard Emergency crews stage at the end of the runway in Tyonek Monday afternoon. The blaze grew to 80 acres by Monday evening.

WIldfire threatens village of Tyonek

  • By DAN BALMER
  • Monday, May 19, 2014 11:48pm
  • News

A 5-acre wildfire near the village of Tyonek grew to 80 acres by 7:15 p.m. Monday.

Just after 8:30 p.m., Sam Harrel, information officer with the Division of Forestry, said the retardant crews have been applying is working to slow the fire down.

The blaze, fueled by high winds, was moving toward the village of Tyonek, which is located on the west side of Cook Inlet. Multiple fire agencies on scene are battling the blaze.

Andy Alexandrou, public information officer with the Division of Forestry, Kenai office, said the fire could potentially reach the village, but some natural breaks and sloughs between the fire and the village help to slow the fire down.

Harrel said smoke jumpers and two retardant tankers are working the fire, which is being handled by the Division of Forestry’s Mat-Su area personnel. The Midnight Sun Hotshot Crew is also on scene and the Pioneer Peak Interagency Hotshot Crew out of Palmer was en route at 7 p.m., Harrel said.

Ten Nikiski firefighters and eight firefighters from the Beluga volunteer department, along with residents of the village are working on the ground with a bulldozer and two fire engines, according to an email from Nikiksi Fire Chief James Baisden.

Harrel said the fire started near the north end of the Tyonek Airport runway with the call reported at about 2:45 p.m. Wind gusts of 25 mph caused the fire to spread and spot over the Chutina River. The blaze was within about 5 miles of the 200-person village when it began.

Harrel said the tankers have dropped retardant in front of the fire to encourage the fire not to spread.

“The winds are strong and affect the direction of the fire,” Harrel said. “The winds are blowing out and the village is being threatened.”

Students from the school in Tyonek were evacuated before school was released around 3 p.m., said Pam Howard, a school nurse who flew to the Kenai Municipal Airport from Tyonek.

She said the power went out and shortly after fire crews advised the school to evacuate.

“This afternoon we got word there was a fire across the river by the airport,” she said. “It was close to the time I was going to fly back so I was concerned about the smoke; whether I would be able to leave. I was concerned about the high winds today.”

Howard, who said school nurses are assigned only seven days a semester in Tyonek, said this was her fourth trip this year. She said the Tyonek School had scheduled their graduation for Monday night but she expected it to be cancelled. She said teachers and able-bodied students were asked to help fight the fire.

“The fire is getting close to the subdivision and residents were very concerned and hoping the planes would arrive with water,” she said. “Residents are concerned about some villagers who cannot walk (well).”

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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