Nation/World

Early-season Alaska fire still growing

Human-caused 248-square-mile blaze started May 19

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Officials said that possible rain forecast this week in Alaska could help crews gain control over a massive wind-whipped wildfire that forced dozens of people to flee to shelters and move some of their animals to safety at rodeo grounds.

The Funny River fire in the state’s Kenai Peninsula covered nearly 248 square miles as of Monday morning and was 30 percent contained, according to the Alaska Interagency Management Team.

No injuries or structure damage has been reported, officials said.

Authorities on Sunday ordered the evacuation of 1,000 homes and other structures in the sparsely populated area 60 miles south of Anchorage – Alaska’s largest city, where haze from the fire has lingered for days.

The human-caused fire was sparked May 19 in the 1.9 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The weather forecast for the area calls for possible rain beginning today, said Willie Begay, a spokesman with the management team responding to the fire.

Two Red Cross shelters have been set up. Many of the displaced residents are staying with friends and relatives, and others are staying in campers in the parking lot of an elementary school where one of the shelters was opened.

“People are actually taking pretty good care of themselves,” Red Cross spokeswoman Beth Bennett said.

Hooligans Sport-Fishing Lodge in Soldotna offered free shelter to displaced residents and their pets. Hotel clerk Demri Healy said about 100 people were staying there Monday. Healy said people were horrified at the thought that their properties could soon be gone, but they were also “unbelievably astounded” at the generous response by locals, who are donating food, ice and bedding.

The fire is affecting an area where structures are scattered rather than lined up closely as in urban neighborhoods. The size of the blaze is not unusual for Alaska but the state does not usually see such large fires this early in the season.



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