A slow-moving but huge forest fire crept toward three southwest Alaska villages Tuesday as firefighters built protective lines and moved stored fuel out of the fire’s path.
Authorities said none of the villages was in immediate danger, and rain predicted for later in the week held out the hope that the blaze could finally be tamed.
But until then villagers will have to put up with sometimes thick smoke as the 172,000-acre Inowak fire moves south and east toward the Kuskokwim River villages of Red Devil, Sleetmute and Stony River, all about 250 miles west of Anchorage.
The fire, sparked by lightening June 25, has grown rapidly this week, fed by highly flammable black spruce in the region and pushed by a steady westerly wind, Alaska Division of Forestry spokeswoman Teresa McPherson said.
Firefighters were battling wildfires in three Western states on Tuesday, but most were small fires burning in remote areas.
In another part of the country, a forest fire the size of the Inowak fire would be a significant problem. But in sparsely populated southwestern Alaska, fires often are left to burn so long as they don’t approach settlements.
That’s what fire officials did with the Inowak fire until this past weekend, when wind-driven flames doubled its size in three days.
By midday Tuesday the flames were five miles from Stony River, a village of about 40 people. A 20-member crew of firefighters set up water pumps.
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