Firefighters continued making slow but deliberate progress on the Caribou Creek Fire burning about 25 miles east of Fairbanks and north of the community of Two Rivers on Friday.
The fire has grown to an estimated 300 acres since it was reported late Sunday afternoon and is burning on a remote hillside and ridgetop about 7 ½ miles north of Chena Hot Springs Road near milepost 18.
The hot weather produced a significant increase in fire behavior on Friday, fire managers said, with fire behavior that included group tree torching and running. Previously, the fire was mainly creeping with isolated torching.
Four 20-person crews and eight smokejumpers are working to construct a containment line around the fire but it’s slow, hard work. The hot, dry conditions are causing the fire to burn 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.
Crews are working in concert with aircraft to build containment lines. Helicopter water drops are used to cool the fire’s edge and crews then move in to cut trees and dig line. Another crew follows behind and mops up the area as the first crew moves forward. Portable water tanks and pumps are being set up along the containment line to provide firefighters ample water to put on the fire. An air tanker also dropped three loads of retardant around the fire on Friday to slow its spread in key areas to the south, north and east. There are four helicopters committed to the fire for water drops and logistical missions, such as ferrying supplies to and from the fireline and transporting firefighters. The fire is not accessible by road or trail.
As of Friday morning, there were 145 personnel assigned to the fire and that number continues to increase. Three more crews are scheduled to arrive at the fire on Friday and Saturday, which should put the total number of personnel working on the fire to around 200. The Yukon Flats Type 2 Emergency Firefighting Crew and the Lewis and Clark Interagency Hotshot Crew from Montana were scheduled to be flown out to the fire on Friday night and another Type 1 hotshot crew from the Lower 48 is scheduled to arrive on Saturday afternoon.
A Type 3 incident management team took command of the fire on Thursday and trigger points have been established to take action if the fire reaches those points. The top priorities 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.
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.
If fire activity increases 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.