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Dozens evacuated from DOT camp and homes as fire spreads near Fairbanks

By Tess Williams

Update: 48 a few minutes ago Published: 48 a few minutes ago

Rapidly increasing wildfire activity in Interior Alaska on Thursday prompted evacuation orders for residents along a 9-mile stretch of the Elliott Highway north of Fairbanks, while lightning sparked many new fires.

The Globe Fire, sparked by lightning, threatened about 20 homes between mile markers 39 and 48 Thursday, said Beth Ipsen, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Fire Department's Bureau of Land Management. Some residents had already evacuated to Fairbanks in the morning, she added.

About 70 to 80 additional people stationed at a camp in the area while working on a road construction project were evacuated early Thursday, said John Perreault, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation.

The highway remained open Thursday to prioritize evacuations and fire response, he said, but drivers should expect significant delays. If the flames reach the highway, traffic will be restricted, Perreault said.

Estimated at more than 1,500 acres Thursday morning, the fire was first reported Tuesday as 1 acre with no flames and little smoke but quickly spread through black spruce, firefighters said.

East winds began pushing the flames toward the highway Wednesday, Ipsen said. Thunderstorms Wednesday night brought erratic winds that made it difficult to control the fire, she said. More storms were expected Thursday, she said.

Efforts to slow the fire by air, with water butts or fire retardants, were also hampered Wednesday by reduced visibility and smoke, authorities said.

A “red flag” warning was issued Thursday for areas north of the Alaska Range to the Brooks Range and from the Canadian border to McGrath, authorities said. High temperatures and winds coupled with dry conditions in the area have created dangerous fire conditions. Ipsen said additional thunderstorms were possible Thursday, which could spark new fires.

Burning permits have also been suspended for Mat-Su, Fairbanks, the Valdez-Copper River area, as well as Delta and Tok until conditions improve.

Authorities were monitoring a number of new fires Thursday and assessing how best to manage existing fires that continued to grow, Ipsen said.

Fire crews continued Thursday to put out fires near Central and Circle that started earlier this week and threatened to spread to Alaska Native homes and gardens in the area. The fires covered about 160 acres in total and crews were making good progress in containing them Thursday, Ipsen said.

As conditions remain dangerous, Ipsen said it is especially important that people be careful when starting a fire and ensure any campfire is completely extinguished before leaving the area.

As of Thursday morning, about 196,000 acres had burned statewide in 264 fires, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center's daily report.

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