- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Fire crews in Alaska were hustling Monday to battle new wildfires that sparked up in the state’s interior just as two large blazes are waning following a break in the state’s high temperatures.

Six structures, which could be anything from a shed to a home, were destroyed Sunday in a two-fire complex ignited by lightning about 20 miles southwest of Nenana, fire information spokesman Pete Buist said. A small new fire, also caused by lightning, also was burning just outside of the Yukon River village of Nulato.

Many of Alaska’s wildfires are caused by lightning, and this year conditions are extra vulnerable because a lack of snow during the winter in much of the state. Alaska was hit statewide by almost 16,000 lightning strikes on Sunday alone, when 47 new fires broke out, according to fire managers.

The two-fire complex has burned nearly 9 miles and led to the evacuation of about 20 people Sunday, with one resident choosing to stay in place, fire information spokesman Timothy Evans said. The fire is heading toward the town of Anderson more than 8 miles away, but the Nenana River is between the blaze and the community.

A small fire measuring about 75 acres was 1 mile outside Nulato, an Athabascan community of about 250.

Paul Mountain, administrator for the Nulato Tribal Council, said the fire broke out as conditions are dry and hot. Smoke was visible in the village, he said.

“It’s still smoking,” Mountain said.

A lightning-caused fire that began June 9 in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve has grown to nearly 53 square miles and has threatened several cabins in the area. Smoke from the fire could affect visibility along the Alaska Highway to the Canada border, fire officials said.

Jim Schwarber with the Alaska Division of Forestry said sprinklers have been set up near the threatened cabins in case the fire approaches closer, but because the area burning is remote with large uninhabited areas, fire managers are actively monitoring the fire only.

South of those blazes, fire crews on Monday continued mopping up fires that had threatened two communities before cooling temperatures over the weekend provided relief.

A fire near Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula is 25 percent contained after destroying 11 structures. Updated mapping put its size at 11½ square miles.

The other fire, which burned 26 homes in Willow, is 79 percent contained. That fire occurred in the heart of dog-mushing country, and on Monday Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race officials announced that donations could be sent to the Willow Dog Mushers Association to help affected mushers.

As of Monday, Alaska had 441 wildfires, including 186 that remain active over almost 179 square miles. Altogether, fires this year have covered 358 square miles.

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Follow Rachel D’Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro

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