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Alaska Deals With New Fires, Persistent Existing Ones

Hot, dry weather has extended wildfire season
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 19, 2019 7:00 PM CDT
A smoke plume from the McKinley Fire is seen Sunday along the Parks Highway near Willow, Alaska. The main highway in Alaska that connects Anchorage and Fairbanks has reopened on a limited basis.   (Maureen Clark/Alaska Division of Forestry via AP)
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(Newser) – Alaska's wildfire season usually ends well before mid-August, but persistent hot, dry weather has contributed to the start of new fires and the spread of old ones. High winds Saturday damaged power lines or knocked trees into lines, sparking multiple fires, including one that temporarily shut down the highway between Anchorage and Denali National Park and burned more than 50 structures, said Tim Mowry, spokesman for the Alaska Division of Forestry. Heavy rain has dampened fires north of the Alaska Range but has not reached areas north and south of Anchorage, the AP reports. "Usually our folks are in the Lower 48 helping out and we're drowning in rainfall in August in most of Alaska," he said. No injuries have been reported. Neighborhoods in Homer were told Monday to prepare to evacuate, per the Anchorage Daily News.

"We're trying to account for any folks who didn't evacuate when they were advised to do so, that's an ongoing process," Mowry said. July was the warmest month ever recorded in Alaska. On Saturday, a weather system with winds gusting to 40 mph moved into south-central Alaska. The fire along the Parks Highway began with a tree falling on a power line. On Sunday night, with winds whipping flames, the fire jumped the highway, and wildfire crews had to help evacuate residents. A single lane of the highway reopened Monday, but fire officials reported zero visibility. Pilot cars guided motorists through smoke. The Alaska Railroad shut down passenger service between Anchorage and Denali Park. Burned trees fell across track and crews worked Monday to remove them. Rail passengers were transported by bus. Through Sunday, the fire had burned 200 square miles. Officials have recorded 659 wildfires this year that have burned more than 3,901 square miles.

(Read more Alaska stories.)

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