- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Crews were battling a rapidly growing wildfire Tuesday that was inching toward a residential subdivision just south of Alaska’s largest city.

The fire had grown to nearly 1 square mile in size as of Tuesday afternoon at the edge of the Seward Highway and was about 1 ½ miles from the subdivision, said Tim Mowry, spokesman for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center in Fairbanks. The only highway leading south of Anchorage was closed to all but one lane for a 5-mile stretch. Travelers could expect delays of up to two hours, Anchorage Fire Department officials said.

Anchorage police later issued a public alert to warn motorists the highway could be closed at any point.

Fire managers have not called for an evacuation of the 17 homes at this point, Mowry said. He said crews were in the area doing home-protection work, such as cutting down trees and moving wood piles.

Crews in air tankers also were dropping fire retardant at the north perimeter of the fire closest to the neighborhood, and helicopters are dropping water on the blaze itself.

Firefighters also are assessing structures about 2 ½ miles south of the fire in case the wind changes direction, officials said.

The cause of the blaze sparked Saturday is unknown. It is burning in the area that includes a steep recreational hiking trail in Chugach State Park. That area has been closed to the public.

Two firefighters were treated for non-life-threatening problems Monday that were related to hot weather.

Firefighters also have been slowed in battling the blaze, in part, because of recently reported bear activity. Hot shot crews also have been slowed by scores of toppled spruce trees that were killed by beetles, Mowry said.

“Where they’re working is real steep terrain. There’s a lot of dead and downed trees,” he said. “It’s really gnarly terrain in there.”

Fire managers will be getting help Wednesday from five hotshot crews being sent from the Lower 48, he said.

Also on Tuesday, Anchorage fire officials announced a municipality-wide ban on open burning, citing dry, hot and windy conditions. Fire officials also sent out a public alert asking people to avoid the Seward Highway because of the fire.

Fire Department spokeswoman Cleo Hill said some responders were somewhat delayed by traffic, but they eventually arrived where they needed to be. Hill said officials are pushing the message: “If possible, stay off the highway until the road is more clear.”

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

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