Willow fire prompts evacuation of homes, strong response

  • By Dan Joling
  • Sunday, June 14, 2015 9:07pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A fast-moving, human-caused wildfire Sunday afternoon closed the Parks Highway and forced the evacuation of about 10 homes near Willow.

The fire was called in at 1:15 p.m. and reported at two acres, said Tim Mowry, spokesman for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, by phone from Fairbanks. By 3 p.m. the fire covered 80 acres, and an hour later was burning 200 acres, or nearly one-third square mile.

“It’s a pretty fast-moving fire,” Mowry said. “It’s got a little bit of wind on it.”

Willow is in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough about 40 miles north of Anchorage. The more than 2,000 rural residents are spread between Miles 60 and 80.7 of the Parks Highway. The community is bordered on the west by the Susitna River.

The fire has remained on the west side of the highway so far, Mowry said, but it was approaching the highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks near Mile 77. Emergency officials closed the road at that spot, and borough spokeswoman Patty Sullivan said drivers were urged to stay out of the area.

The fire has been dubbed the Sockeye Fire for the avenue in Willow where the fire started and where the homes were evacuated quickly after the fire was reported.

“That was within the first half-hour after it was reported,” Mowry said.

The fire was caused by people, but Mowry did not have details on how it started.

The response was swift and strong because of the fire’s proximity to homes. “We’re throwing everything we can at it at this point,” Mowry said.

By midafternoon, tankers from Palmer and Fairbanks were dropping retardant on the fire, and a helicopter was dropping loads of water. A second helicopter was on its way from Kenai.

Three water-scooping aircraft were due to arrive from Fairbanks.

On the ground, firefighters from the Division of Forestry were battling the blaze. Three 20-member crews from Kenai, Palmer and Fairbanks also were headed for the fire, Mowry said.

“It’s a dynamic situation,” he said.

Emergency officials set up an evacuation center for displaced families at the Willow Community Center at Mile 69.7 mile Parks Highway.

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