- Associated Press - Friday, May 23, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A wildfire on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula has grown to 98 square miles even as planes, helicopters and increasing numbers of firefighters attack it, fire officials said late Thursday.

Smoke from the fire and one near Tyonek blew north into Anchorage, prompting an air quality alert in Alaska’s largest city.

Fire officials said the Funny River fire is 5 percent contained and restricted to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge south of Soldotna. No known structures have been lost.

Incident commander Rob Allen said 230 people were fighting the 63,000-acre Funny River fire that started Monday. By the weekend, between 400 and 500 people are expected to be attacking the blaze, KTUU-TV reported.

“Our community will probably be burned by then,” Robin Wylie, a resident of the Sterling Highway community of Kasilof (kah-SEE’-lawf) said Thursday night in a telephone interview.

Wylie said many of her neighbors are “extremely scared, extremely upset” because of what she called “a wall of fire headed right for us.” Wylie said she and her two children have a truck and trailer packed in case they have to leave.

KTUU reported that some angry Kasilof residents asked at a Thursday night community meeting with fire officials why the response didn’t come sooner. Some offered their own bulldozers and construction equipment to help. Kasilof’s population was estimated at 550 in 2010.

The focus of suppression efforts continued to be the fire’s west side.

Bulldozers followed by crews with hand tools by early Thursday afternoon had established 6 to 7 miles of “dozer line” that provided a fire break between flames and homes several miles away near Kasilof. The fire Thursday morning was 4 miles from the Kasilof River and 3.5 miles from a Kasilof subdivision.

Four water-scooping CL-215 aircraft dipped into Tustumena Lake at the south edge of the fire to assist suppression efforts. They were joined by three air tankers and five helicopters that could ferry firefighters and supplies or dump water from buckets.

Temperatures remained in the low 60s, fire spokeswoman Maureen Clark said, and humidity was low.

Across Cook Inlet, and about 40 miles south of Anchorage, the Tyonek Fire had burned another 3 square miles. It was being fought with 108 people on the ground and in the air. Crews continued to focus on controlled burn-out operations to protect natural gas pipelines and the Beluga power plant, which supplies power to Anchorage.

In interior Alaska, fire officials reported the Dalton River Crossing Fire, just east of the Dalton Highway and north of the Yukon River at 450 acres, or less than one square mile. About 52 people are working to protect structures, including a restaurant, west of the highway.


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