July 19, 12:45 p.m. -The Alaska Division of Forestry is now estimating the McHugh Creek Fire burning south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway at 500-600 acres.
The Seward Highway remains reduced to one-lane traffic with a pilot car from mileposts 108-113 and motorists should expect long delays – up to an hour – if they are traveling in the area. Motorists are advised to avoid travel on the Seward Highway in the vicinity of the fire unless absolutely necessary.
The fire burned over a ridge on the north side that separates McHugh Creek from the highway and then turned back up toward the ridge top. Air tankers are currently dropping retardant on the north perimeter of the fire and multiple helicopters are being used to drop water on the fire to slow its spread. Two Blackhawk helicopters from the Alaska Army National Guard are also en route to the fire to assist with bucket operations.
The three crews working on the fire have been pulled off the fire for safety reasons and are now focused on protecting structures in the Rainbow Valley Subdivision approximately 1.5 miles north of the fire and assessing structures in Potter Valley approximately 2.5 miles south of the fire in the event the wind direction changes and moves the fire in that direction. A task force from the Anchorage Fire Department is assisting with structure assessments in Potter Valley.
No evacuation advisories or orders have been issued, though residents in the area should begin formulating an evacuation plan if they don’t already have one. In the event of an evacuation, residents will be notified by personnel from the Anchorage Police Department in the event of an evacuation. Residents can also sign up for evacuation alerts from the Anchorage police and fire departments at http://www.nixle.com.
Due to the ongoing response to the fire, officials with Alaska State Parks have closed Chugach State Park trails and adjacent park lands to public use between the Potter Creek and Rainbow trailheads, including all of the McHugh Creek and Rainbow Creek drainages. Closures specifically include the Turnagain Arm Trail between Potter and Rainbow, the McHugh Creek Trail, and the Rainbow Peak Trail as well as the McHugh Creek wayside, Beluga Point pullout and Rainbow trailhead.
The McHugh Creek Fire bumped up against the highway between miles 108 and 113 at approximately 4 a.m. and the northbound lane of the Seward Highway was closed at around 5 a.m. A pilot car from the Department of Transportation is leading traffic through dense smoke in the one-lane section of road. The road remains open at this time but fire managers are anticipating that debris could be falling onto the road shortly and the road could be closed .
The Type 2 incident management team that was managing the Tok River Fire south of Tok has been ordered to take over command of the McHugh Fire on Wednesday morning and will be enroute to the fire today. Five hotshot crews from the Lower 48 are also being ordered to assist with suppression efforts.
Activity on the fire initially picked up around 5 p.m. Monday when the fire made a push up the McHugh Creek drainage with intermittent torching, producing several spot fire over the retardant line over one-half mile away. Crews used water drops from helicopters to assist holding the line. When the smoke cleared aerial resources found a slop over within 1.7 miles of the Rainbow Valley Subdivision to the north.