Firefighters began the process of building and plumbing containment lines around a 1,200-acre wildfire near the Denali Borough community of Anderson on Friday, just 16 hours after the fire forced the evacuation of two remote subdivisions west of the Parks Highway near Mile 275, about 85 miles south of Fairbanks.
Thanks in part to cooler, wetter weather that moved into the area late Thursday night, just hours after the fire erupted, the Kobe Fire showed no sign of growth on Friday and exhibited only minimal fire behavior in the form of creeping and smoldering. That was a huge contrast to the extreme behavior displayed the night before when the fire was crowning – jumping from tree top to tree top – and throwing embers one-quarter to one-half mile in front of itself, causing spot fires to flame up in front of the main fire.
The extreme fire behavior and rapid movement of the fire prompted fire and borough officials to evacuate the Kobe Ag and Anderson subdivisions, two areas with clusters of homes several miles west of the Parks Highway that were in the path of the fire. Officials also issued a “Level 2: Set” evacuation alert for the community of Anderson, about 10 miles northeast of the fire, telling residents to be ready to leave on short notice.
On Friday, the situation had calmed considerably with the cooler, wetter weather and firefighters began the task of building a containment line around the perimeter of the fire. Three 20-person crews arrived to begin building control lines and setting up pumps and hose around the fire to provide a water supply for firefighters to begin mopping up the fire.
The crews will be assisted by three bulldozers, which will be used to carve out a containment line around the fire with firefighters following behind setting up the pumps and hose to extinguish any hotspots they find on either side of the control line. In addition to the crews and dozers, four engines also arrived at the fire to provide support and assist with any structure protection needs.
The Kobe Fire was reported at 6:45 p.m. Thursday approximately 2 ½ miles west of the Parks Highway and Nenana River between Miles 275-276. Driven by a south wind Thursday night, the fire grew rapidly to the northeast and had advanced to within a mile of the river as of Friday morning.
Multiple residences were threatened by the fire Thursday night but as of Friday morning there were no reports of any homes burning and only one outbuilding was confirmed to have been lost. There were no reports of injuries.
The fire burned right up to the side of one home but it did not catch fire, Incident Commander Rob Gubser said. Two engine crews worked to mop up the area around the home on Friday to ensure there were no hot spots remaining around the home.
Firefighters’ initial attack efforts on Thursday night were hampered by low visibility caused by dense smoke produced by multiple fires burning in the Interior, which grounded aircraft and prevented any kind of air support in the form of water and retardant drops. Aircraft were not able to fly over the fire on Friday, either.
The change in the weather played a major role in tempering fire behavior and providing firefighters a chance to corral the fire, Gubser said.
“Weather was a huge factor,” he said on Friday after giving Denali Borough Mayor Clay Walker a tour of the fire area. “That rain we got last night really knocked it down.”
Light rain continued to fall on and off all day long, keeping fire activity at a minimum. The moisture and high overnight relative humidities should help keep the fire in check, Gubser said.
“That’s helped a lot,” Gubser said early Friday evening. “She’s going to be moist tonight.”
Even with the change in the weather, firefighters have a lot of work to do before the fire is fully contained, he said.
“We’ve got a lot of work and mop up to do,” Gubser said.
Firefighters from the Anderson, McKinley, Nenana and Tri-Valley volunteer fire departments, as well as the Clear Air Force Station fire department, played a key role in initial attack of the fire and assisting with evacuations and structure protection on Thursday night. Personnel and equipment from the Anderson Volunteer Fire Department will continue to provide support for the incident, Gubser said. The Division of Forestry is working with Denali Borough Emergency Services to coordinate evacuation and fire information.
An evacuation shelter has been set up at the Tri-Valley School in Healy. A call center has been set up at the Denali Borough and the number is 907-683-1330.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.