July 17, 6:15 p.m. – An aggressive aerial response by the Alaska Division of Forestry has slowed the spread of a wildfire burning near the McHugh Creek Trail along the Seward Highway just south of Anchorage and firefighters have begun attacking the fire on the ground.
Two air tankers hammered the fire with multiple retardant drops and three helicopters have been dipping water out of Turnagain Arm to drop on the McHugh Fire, which is currently estimated at 25 to 40 acres. Both tankers and helicopters have been effective in keeping the fire in check until firefighters on the ground can get in position to take action.
Eight smokejumpers from the BLM Alaska Fire Service arrived at the fire at approximately 3 p.m. to begin a ground attack. They will be joined tonight by two Type 1 hotshot crews – the Pioneer Peak hotshots from the Alaska Division of Forestry and the Chena hotshots from the Alaska Fire Service – as well as a Type 2 initial attack crew from the U.S. Forest Service. All three crews and the smokejumpers will be working through the night to contain the fire, which is burning in Chugach State Park.
The fire is visible from the Seward Highway and has caused traffic to slow on the highway. Motorists are advised to keep moving and refrain from stopping to watch or take pictures. Likewise, the parking lot to the McHugh Creek Recreation Area is closed and the Division of Forestry is asking people to avoid the area and stay off the trail system for safety reasons.
The fire is actively burning in beetle-killed spruce, much of which is dead and blown down, making access for firefighters extremely difficult and dangerous given the steep terrain. Fire managers described conditions as “gnarly.”
The fire was reported to the Anchorage Fire Department at around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night. AFD firefighters responded to the fire but due to the location of the fire and steep, hazardous terrain it was located in they were not able to engage the fire and notified the Alaska Division of Forestry.
DOF firefighters responded and hiked into the fire early this morning to get eyes on the fire but they were also not able to take action due to the steep, hazardous terrain. At that time the fire was estimated at 3-5 acres and was “skunking around.”
The cause of the fire is not known at this time and is under investigation.