Fire Strikes Heart of Sled Dog Country

500 dogs rescued from Sockeye fire
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 16, 2015 4:02 AM CDT
Fire Strikes Heart of Sled Dog Country
Steve Charles sits alongside his sled dog, Bridger, at an American Red Cross evacuation center in Houston, Alaska, yesterday.   (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

A huge Alaska wildfire has prompted help from people offering their homes to scores of displaced residents—and their animals. The "Sockeye Fire" north of Anchorage has led to the voluntary evacuation of up to 1,700 structures and has struck the heart of sled dog country, including 15 or so mushers who call the town of Willow home. About 500 dogs have been rescued, according to Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member Vern Halter, a former Iditarod musher. About 200 of those dogs ended up with four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser at his kennels in Big Lake about 20 miles from the fire. He also was taking in displaced residents, including veteran Iditarod musher DeeDee Jonrowe, who lost her home.

When the fire began raging Sunday, the word went out that dogs needed rescuing, says Steve Charles, a member of the Willow Dog Mushers Association. People went out with dog boxes on the backs of their trucks to help rescue hundreds of dogs, according to Charles, who spent the day doing that. When he returned to his home south of Willow, the fire began threatening his neighborhood. "I didn't realize I would have to be evacuating myself," he says. The Sockeye blaze has mushroomed in size, and on the Kenai Peninsula, around 100 miles south, another fast-moving wildfire erupted yesterday and authorities say it has forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes. (More Alaska stories.)

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