- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A wildfire threatening homes on both sides of it just south of Alaska’s largest city was likely started by people, fire officials said Wednesday.

The cause is under investigation, and officials said the area is heavily used for recreation. But they stressed that their first priority at the moment is ensuring the fire doesn’t reach the neighborhoods. At least 22 homes are threatened, and firefighters were not expecting to get an immediate break from the hot and dry conditions that are expected to make for an active fire-burning day.

The blaze was sparked Saturday evening. It is burning in an area that includes a steep recreational hiking trail in Chugach State Park, as well as the edge of a cliff overlooking the Seward Highway, the only road leading south of Anchorage. The highway was temporarily down to one lane earlier this week, but all lanes were open Thursday, although that could change, officials said.

Incident commander Tom Kurth said fire managers are anticipating a change in the weather, with Thursday’s forecast calling for up to a half inch of rain for the area.

“We’re going to be weather-dependent in this country here,” he told reporters at a news conference. “I’m counting on the rain.”

Kurth said the fire has come within a mile of two separate Anchorage subdivisions on either side. There are no immediate plans for evacuations, but he said residents in affected areas would be wise to be ready to go if necessary.

Officials downgraded the estimate of the fire’s size by about half, to just over half a square mile. But they expect to officially increase the estimate later Wednesday after new mapping is done of the fire burning about 10 miles south of Anchorage.

Kurth said 150 firefighters are battling the blaze. Five hotshot crews also were set to arrive later Thursday from California and Oregon, fire information spokesman Tim Mowry said.

Officials said earlier this week that firefighters were slowed in battling the blaze, in part, because of recently reported bear activity. Hotshot crews also have been slowed by scores of toppled spruce trees that were killed by beetles.

The steepness of the terrain is also wearing the fire crews out, Kurth said. So the rain would be most welcome.

“That’s really what’s needed to subdue this fire here,” he said.

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


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