With hotter, drier weather in the forecast, more firefighters are joining the fight to contain a remote wildfire burning about 25 miles east of Fairbanks.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Caribou Creek Fire north of the community of Two Rivers was estimated at 300 acres and was 15 percent contained, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry. The fire is burning 7 ½ miles north of Chena Hot Springs Road near milepost 18. The lightning-caused fire was reported on Sunday night.
The North Star Type 2 Fire Crew from the Alaska Fire Service in Fairbanks was flown into the fire by helicopter on Thursday morning to bring the total number of personnel fighting the fire to approximately 140. In addition, a Type 1 hotshot crew from Idaho is scheduled to arrive at the fire on Friday and another Type 2 hand crew from Alaska has been ordered for the fire, which will push the number of personnel working on the fire to almost 200.
Temperatures in Fairbanks reached 80 degrees for the first time this summer on Thursday and the hot, dry conditions are challenging firefighters.
With assistance from targeted water drops by helicopters and water-scooping aircraft the past four days, crews have been able to keep the fire contained to a steep hillside just north of Caribou Creek but the hotter, drier conditions are causing the fire to burn deep down into the root systems of trees, causing them to fall over, which poses a risk to firefighters and makes suppression and mop up more difficult. The downed trees create more ground fuel and need to be cut up to construct containment lines. They are also more resistant to suppression because they smolder and hold heat for long periods of time, which requires substantial water to extinguish. Gusty winds associated with afternoon thunderstorms have also been problematic because they fan the flames and push the fire in different directions.
Due to the complexity of the fire and the forecasted weather, a Type 3 incident management team assumed command of the fire on Thursday morning. The fire is not accessible by road or trail and all firefighters must be flown in by helicopter.
Firefighters are taking direct action on both flanks and the head of the fire at the top of the hillside in an attempt to keep it from spreading south, north and east. Crews are constructing containment lines, searching for hot spots and laying down hose lines connected to pumps to get water on the fire.
There are six cabins between 1 and 3 miles south of the fire and firefighters have set up a pump, hose and sprinklers around the cabin that is closest to the fire in the event the fire gets closer and they have to protect the structure.
Fire managers have set up trigger points in different spots to take action should the fire reach those points. The top priorities at this point are structure assessment and protection, limiting fire growth to the south toward Chena Hot Springs Road, securing any spot fires that pop up and limiting fire growth to the north and east.
If the fire grows to the point where aerial and ground forces can no longer contain it, firefighters will fall back to protect structures and try to contain the fire in a creek drainage to the west while also preventing it from moving south.
A Temporary Flight Restriction is in place in the area for up to 6,000 feet elevation to provide a safe airspace for firefighting aircraft working on the fire.
For more information, contact the Alaska Interagency Fire Information Office at (907)356-5511.