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Rain assists fight against Alaska fire sparked on Army land

Jul. 11, 2013 - 04:10PM   |  
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FAIRBANKS, ALASKA — Rain has brought relief to crews tackling a wildfire east of Fairbanks, but conditions are expected to warm up and increase fire activity, responders said.

The 131-square mile Stuart Creek 2 Fire is 25 percent contained, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Thursday.

The fire began on June 19 on military training land while a U.S. Army artillery exercise was taking place.

This week, an Army spokesman backed away from recent statements by the Fort Wainwright garrison commander that base training exercises started the fire during a period when the National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning asking residents to avoid conducting activities that could ignite blazes. However, the Army also began accepting damage claims from those who think they have been affected by the Army’s “possible wrongdoing.”

Kent Slaughter, the Alaska Fire Service manager for the Bureau of Land Management, has said the BLM had advised the Army not to conduct training that day. The fire may lead the BLM to re-evaluate how the agency authorizes the Army to conduct live-fire training, Slaughter said.

After the blaze was sparked, it remained relatively small for days before flaring up. Then it threatened to cross the Chena River and burn homes along Chena Hot Springs Road, the 55-mile route connecting the Steese Highway to the historic hot springs.

Firefighters on Sunday asked residents along a 16-mile stretch of the road to evacuate. The request was lifted Monday.

Fire crews are trying to connect three fire containment lines, Alaska Fire Service spokesman Bernie Pineda said.

Almost 800 people are working on the fire and officials estimate the firefighting cost so far at $7.9 million.

“We’re making a lot of headway,” Pineda said. “The rain has given this fire a moment of pause. We’ve been fighting this fire for the last five days on our heels and we like to fight fires offensively.”

The BLM will pick up the tab for the fire, spokesman Mel Slater said. An agreement made in the 1990s gives the bureau the responsibility for fires on land it jointly maintains with the Army, according to Slater.

The exact cause of the fire is unknown, but the Army plans to conduct a review of the fire, Army Alaska spokesman Maj. Alan Brown said.

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