An Alaskan wildfire that damaged several houses and displaced numerous residents and their animals prompted people to offer their homes as refuge to those affected.
The authorities had to contain the traffic on a major highway that links two cities. Alaska Forestry Division spokesman Sam Harrel said that 200 firefighters – along with specially trained teams – had been deployed to handle the fire that quickly spread to over 6,500 acres.
The fire started on Sunday afternoon near Willow, which is 40 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.
Tom Kurth, the incident commander and wildland fire manager for the state Forestry Division, said that humidity of less than 30 percent and temperature going beyond 90 degrees were factors that caused a fire that was hard to contain.
Kurth said, “It’s very intimidating when that wind starts blowing and that column leans over and a lot of what’s out there begins to become obscured by that heavy smoke.” He further said that “weather is going to control it.”
Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member Vern Halter, a former Iditarod musher, said that 500 dogs had been rescued. Of those, 200 were sent to the kennels at Big Lake, 20 miles from the fire, of four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser.
Buser also provided refuge to displaced residents, even veteran Iditarod musher DeeDee Jonrowe whose house suffered destruction.
According to USA Today, Buser said, “Everybody’s relieved that their dogs are safe and here, but the people that have lost their homes, they are dejected. And people that their homes got spared are elated.”
Forestry division reports suggest that the fire covered only two acres when it started, but soon spread to 6,500 acres. The flames quickly spread from one 30- to 40-foot spruce tree to the next, causing closure of the Parks Highway, which connects Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Vern Halter, representing Willow on the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly, visited the scene on Sunday. As reported by NBC News, he said, “It’s a very somber mood up there. Right when it jumped the highway, I can honestly say I was scared, because there were flames on both sides and in the ditches.”
Single lane traffic was opened on Monday morning, with vehicles being guided by a pilot car, while the highway could be closed intermittently, Harrel said.
About 25 primary homes and 20 secondary residences were damaged by the fire as of Monday morning, according to Reuters.
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