July 19, 7:30 p.m. – The Alaska Division of Forestry continues to battle a wildfire burning just south of Anchorage that is visible from the Seward Highway and snarling traffic on one of Alaska’s most scenic byways.
The McHugh Fire is estimated at 500-600 acres and is burning along a ridge top and in drainages within view of the highway.
The fire is approximately 1.1 miles from the Potter Creek Subdivision to the south and 1.3 miles from the Rainbow Valley subdivision to the north. The fire progressed southand west on Tuesday along a ridge top toward Potter Creek that parallels the highway.
No evacuation advisories or orders have been issued as of 2 p.m. Tueday, 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. Residents can also sign up for evacuation alerts from the Anchorage police and fire departments at http://www.nixle.com.
Traffic has been reduced to one lane between mileposts 104 and 115 due to safety hazards posed by the fire, such as rocks and burning trees falling down from the top of a steep cliff the fire is burning on that parallels the road. Motorists faced delays of more than three hours on Tuesday as traffic slowed to a crawl waiting for a pilot car to escort long lines of cars in from both directions through the area impacted by the fire. The area most affected by the fire is from mile 108 to 113 of the Seward Highway.
The fire is burning in steep, hilly terrain and is terrain driven, occasionally making runs up drainages as it finds receptive fuels.
Two air tankers and multiple helicopters were used Tuesday to drop retardant and water on the fire to slow its spread and the plan for Tuesday night was to use retardant tankers to reinforce the right and left flanks of the fires closest to the two subdivisions that are threatened.
Approximately 100 personnel are working on the fire and at least five more hotshot crews from the Lower 48 are scheduled to arrive tomorrow to assist with the suppression operation. A Type 2 incident management team from Alaska has been ordered to take over command of the McHugh Fire on Wednesday morning .
Firefighters from the Alaska Division of Forestry, Anchorage Fire Department, BLM Alaska Fire Service, Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are working on structure protection measures for houses in both subdivisions in the event the fire spreads to those residential areas.
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.