July 18, 4:30 p.m. – Firefighters continue to attack a wildfire burning near the Seward Highway south of Anchorage from the air and ground in an effort to keep it in check.
The McHugh Fire is now estimated at 60 acres and was 2 percent contained as of Monday morning. There are approximately 80 personnel working on the fire, including eight smokejumpers from the BLM Alaska Fire Service, two hotshot crews from the Alaska Division of Forestry (Pioneer Peak hotshots) and BLM Alaska Fire Service (Chena hotshos) and a Type 2 initial attack crew from the U.S. Forest Service.
The area the fire is burning contains a significant amount of beetle-killed spruce that has been blown down and is jackstrawed. The fire is actively burning in those areas and the steep terrain poses a dangerous challenge for firefighters trying to access them.
The fire was reported late Saturday night and firefighters on the ground couldn’t reach the fire due to steep, rugged terrain. The Alaska Division of Forestry used air tankers and helicopters to drop retardant and water on the fire for most of Sunday until they could mobilize ground forces to respond to the fire. Air tankers dropped 18 loads of retardant on the fire Sunday to help keep it contained.
Tankers and helicopters returned on Monday to continue the aerial assault while firefighters on the ground focused on working the flanks of the fire to keep it contained in the McHugh Creek drainage. Crews are cutting a saw line around the fire to deprive it of fuel. Crews also picked up three or four spot fires approximately one-half mile ahead of the fire and retardant drops were ordered to box in the head of the fire.
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 cause of the fire is not known at this time and will be investigated by the Division of Forestry. The agency is currently focused on active suppression of the fire.